Money in the Middle

Sandwich Generation Talking About Money Up, Down and Across Generations

Posts Tagged ‘sandwich generation

Adult children and aging parents: enable or safety in driving?

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In a week of horrific front page news, it’s the story about an elderly couple who got lost driving home and froze to death that haunts me.

For anyone in the delicate balance of respecting the wishes of aging parents who want to keep driving and trying to make sure they are safe, the story captures our greatest fear.  We’ll miss a critical sign that can mean the difference between life and death..The headline reads:

Elderly Couple found Frozen To Death After Getting Lost During Drive

The daughter was quoted as saying: “We didn’t realize it was time to do more. We didn’t realize it was time. . . . Oh, the second-guessing that is running through our minds.”

They had taken precautions – gathering in places where the drive would be short and familiar; providing a cell phone; checking in to make sure they arrive — things many of us have done to help honor our parent’s wish to keep driving, at the same time hoping we are keeping them safe enough.

Maybe it’s just that I returned from driving my mother down to Florida — taking the 14 hour drive off her, but giving her the freedom to get around on her own there for the next few months.

I sometimes worry about becoming an enabler – that is, helping continue a routine that really needs to be altered in realistic response to aging issues.  When actually the discussion should be about how we adjust to a change and find new ways to accomplish the activities that keep us feeling independent.  There is so much fear wrapped up in the ability to no longer drive.

There are many resources available about the issue of aging and driving.  Some great websites about how to have the conversation and options available to help transition to a non-driver.  Here are a couple of those website if you are tackling the driving and aging issue.  I also find them helpful in beginning to think about how I want to handle this situation as I age.

Family conversations about driving from The Hartford

Older Drivers by AAA

Such a horrific story.   But  one that reminds us all that sometimes we have to push the balance between respect and safety even more than we’re comfortable with when it comes to aging parents and driving (among other issues).  My heart goes out to the family who tried so hard to find that right balance between respecting wishes and taking away the keys.  It’s so hard to know what’s right.

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Written by Laura Rossman

January 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Get Ready to Help with Medicare Insurance Decisions

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This is the time of year when people on Medicare prepare for open enrollment.  And you thought you were done with that when you left the workforce.  But, Medicare has an open enrollment period each year for Medicare beneficiaries who want to enroll or change Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans.

 For many of us in the sandwich generation, it’s a time when we lend a hand to an aging parent or family member to figure out if they need to change plans – either for cost reasons or because their medical needs have changed.  It can be pretty confusing no matter what your age.  But it really is worth taking the time to compare plans and make sure you’ve got the right plan and the right price.

 The good news is that prices for Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans won’t be changing much from 2010 to 2011. 

Plan prices will be about 1 percent lower, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

You may still have to shop for a new plan during open enrollment – if the plan has changed benefits, health care needs have changed or the plan is exiting the business. It’s also smart to check and make sure the plan you’ve got is still the right plan.  During this special period you can switch plans without having to worry about health conditions limiting your choices.  This period doesn’t apply to Medicare Supplement Plans.

 Those who have Medicare Advantage plans or Medicare Part D plans can change their plans during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) from Nov. 15 – Dec. 31. 

Longevity Alliance, a national insurance brokerage, is offering an AEP Reminder service.  You can sign up to receive an email when most of the 2011 plan information is available.  That way you won’t have to keep calling to find out about rates for 2011 and you won’t let it slip!  You can sign up for the free service by clicking here.

Rate and plan comparison tools are available at www.medicare.gov.  But the 2011 rates usually aren’t loaded into the system until mid-late October.  So keep checking back and make sure you are looking at 2011 rates. 

“Even with the lower costs, all beneficiaries should take time this Fall to compare their current health and drug plan coverage with what’s available and best meets their needs for next year,” said Jonathan Blum, deputy administrator and director of CMS’ Center for Medicare.  “Medicare will continue to provide a wide-range of consumer tools to help beneficiaries make the best possible choice of coverage.”  

Rates and benefits for specific 2011 plans are generally released between Oct. 15 and Nov. 1.  The government rules say you can’t buy a plan until Nov. 15, but you can start shopping and comparing rates so you don’t end up in a last-minute rush.  And you’ve got to shop to save and/or make sure you’ve got the right plan for your current medical needs.

 Don’t wait too long. The companies handling this business get very busy.  You’ll get more attention and assistance, if you need it, if you look early in November and apply as soon as you can – November 15.  And make sure you compare plans and fully understand the co-pays and network limits since a low-cost premium may just shift costs  and you’ll find you’re paying more at the doctor and the pharmacy.

Written by Laura Rossman

September 23, 2010 at 1:17 pm

When Your Long-term Care Insurance Rates Rise

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Over the past several months, many long-term care insurance policy holders have received unwanted news from their LTC insurance company:  your rate is going up.

There are a number of reasons prices on policies issued years ago are going up now.  The current low-interest rate environment; more people are holding onto their policies rather than lapsing (stop paying); and people are living longer so more are expected to use their benefits than originally projected. 

But raising rates?  Can they do that?  You probably don’t remember it, but your policy includes language that the rate can be increased in the future.  And many companies have held off on increases.  But to maintain a financially stable program, the rates have to support potential claims.  Those insurance through the Federal government employees long-term care insurance program found that out last year when some rates increased as much as 25%.

It’s also important to recognize that the increase does not reflect anything about you as an individual.  When companies make these changes they do so for an entire class of policy owners, i.e. people who bought a certain policy during a certain period of time.  So you aren’t being singled out. 

You’ll receive a letter from the insurance company telling you when the rate is going to increase and the options you have if you don’t’ want to pay more.  

So, what are your options?  

Cancelling should be the last resort.  Unless you have a provision in your contract that lets you stop the policy and receive the benefits you’ve accrued to date, you will lose all the money you have paid in for the insurance.  Work with the insurer to find a benefit level that you can afford. 

Buying a new policy at a lower cost usually isn’t an option.  LTC insurance is priced by the age at the time you apply – the older you are, the more it costs.  So switching probably won’t save you money if you’ve had your policy more than a few years. 

If you are happy with the policy and you can afford the rate increase that solves the problem. 

But, if you can’t afford the increase, you can change the benefits.  The letter will outline what you can change and the impact it will have on your price. 

A good place to start can be the additional “riders” you purchased.  See if they are still as important to you as they were when you bought the policy.  Be careful about cutting inflation protection if you have it (the percentage at which the daily benefit increases each year — for example, 5% compound growth.  That’s what keeps your pool of money growing to keep pace with the costs of care when you need it in the future. 

Then take a look at the core benefits: daily benefit, policy years, and elimination period (deductible).  Your agent or the company can help you work through the tradeoffs.  Ask about the average costs of care in your area.  That can help you determine how far your coverage will go.

For those in the sandwich generation, if your parent is finding it difficult to pay the higher amount you might want to consider chipping in and paying the difference.  Continuing the level of coverage may be a huge financial relief in the future for all of you.

Don’t wait until the last minute to make the decision.  Give yourself time to review and consider the financial tradeoffs.

Written by Laura Rossman

August 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

What Does 70 Look Like?

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Facts on Turning 70

There’s a great article in the NY Times on what it means to be in your 70s.  What should you look like?  What should you do?  What are society’s expectations?  After all average life expectancy is 78 years old. 

 Ringo turned 70.  Other celebrities in the 70+ club are Chuck Norris, Al Pacino, Alex Trebeck and Raquel Welch.  

Funny, it wasn’t that long ago when turning 50 was the watershed birthday.  Seems so young now! 

The 70s are interesting because it has traditionally been seen as a time of slowing down.  Yet more people are working into their 70s. Or staying active travelling, volunteering and socializing. 

At the same time, we can all think of someone in their 70s who suffers whose life is a bit different because of health or financial limitations. 

 It’s Interesting food for thought whether you’re planning your own later years or helping family or friends with theirs.  

 My take away:  Money matters—but health matters more. 

 Second take-away: Expectations of what’s right at 70 should be your own.  Good financial planning gives you options.

 Third take away:  Last quote in the article about being 90! 

Written by Laura Rossman

July 13, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Baby Boomers: Leave Your Kids Alone

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 A 24-year-old turning down a $40,000 job for fear it will short-circuit his future.  Really?  That’s the story on the front page of the NYTimes.  It’s been bugging me ever since I read it. 

Here’s why. 

* We all make choices about jobs.  Don’t understand his, especially in this market, but you gotta do what you gotta do. He will learn.  But let’s not paint a whole generation of young people with the same brush.  I think Generation Y is pretty savvy and display some of the same attitudes and values about work and money as their grandparents – not their baby boomer parents. 

* What are Mom and Dad thinking? I’m big on letting young adults find their own path and make their own decisions.  But supporting them fully financially – so they have no incentive to move forward – doesn’t help them – or their parents.  Many Baby boomers seem to be excelling at trying to live their children’s lives.  Let him make his choice,  But also let him live with the financial ramifications of that decision.

 * The article headline – American Dream is Elusive for a New Generation.  Every bit of research I’ve seen on Generation Y and the future of work and retirement says that expectations are different.  This is a generation that knows that they will have many different jobs and probably careers.  Traditional career ladders don’t exist.  You move up, across, down, up – whichever way takes you to the next opportunity. Theirs is a different dream.

 I wish Scott Nicholson well in figuring out his career path.  At the same time I hope that his baby boomer parents start letting him feel the financial consequences of his decisions.  

 We may think that by providing full  financial support to our adult children we’re helping them.  We’re not.

Written by Laura Rossman

July 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm

Less Help from Employers with Retirement and Eldercare

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 Retirement planning, investment advice, elder care services – just three benefits that employers are cutting back on at just the time when more of us need them.

 It is a sign of the times…and economic reality.  Benefits increase costs and employers have just been through rounds of cost cutting. While cutting benefits has allowed more to keep their jobs, it has shifted where we look to for assistance.   

You are on your own more than ever.

A new survey from SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management) says:  

  • Companies offering defined benefit (pensions) are down to 27%; 
  • On the other hand, companies offering defined contribution (401(k) plans is up to 92%; 39% offer retirement planning service (compared to 52% in 2006); 
  • 40% of companies offer individual investment advice (down from 48% in 2006); and 
  • 11% offer elder care referral services (down from 26% in 2006). 

For many baby boomers, the employer has been the source of assistance and resources on planning for retirement and family services –whether it’s childcare or eldercare.  Not anymore.  And while some of these benefits may come back, when economic conditions become more stable, it may not be in enough time to help. 

But, the good news is that there are resources available to help.  And there are services available if you have the money and willingness to pay for assistance.  Here are some suggestions: 

  • Check your 401(k) plan website.  There are usually very helpful tools to help you not only with investments but with overall financial planning. 
  • The government website MyMoney.gov is a great resource for all types of financial information  
  • Eldercare.gov can lead you to local elder care resources 
  •  For low-income seniors, Benefitscheckup.org from NCOA  can help identify what government provided or subsidized programs may be available. 
  • Health insurance company Humana just launched a subscription based caregiving support programs PointsofCaregiving.com that provides access to information and services.
  •  A geriatric care manager can be a life saver if you are struggling with what services you need and how to get them.  This association can help you find local resources.

If you are lucky enough to still have these benefits available through your employer, make use of them!  If you don’t, there are plenty of free and for a fee resources available. Family and friends can be good resources.  And, just make sure if you hire someone, you check out their credentials carefully.

Long-term care crisis looming-time to talk

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5 Generations

If we needed long-term care tomorrow, most of us are not financially prepared. 

If our parents needed long-term care tomorrow, most of us have no idea what financial resources they have or their expectations and desires for where to live, who will care for them.

Statistically, 72% of Americans will need some level of care later in life. 

The crisis in long-term care is coming.  For many of us, it is already here.  So what do we do about it? 

I attended a session on Women and Aging 2010:  America’s Emerging Crisis last week in Washington sponsored by the Volunteers of America.  They have a robust senior housing program including a program that helps those who want to stay in their home or community (Aging with Options program at Volunteers of America). 

Good research, good discussion by a good panel – but no answer to the question of how do we even begin to have the family conversation about long-term care and finances.  Parents – especially the GI Generation _ don’t want to talk about money.  Baby boomers are generally in denial that they will ever need care.

Everyone agreed we need to have family discussions about this topic.  But, no one had an answer on how to have that conversation before crisis mandates it. and that, of course, is the worse time to try to make any decisions about money or long-term care.

Michelle Singletary, a finance columnist from the Washington Post (her column on the panel)  recommended starting the conversation with children now – hopefully once you need care, they’ll know what you have and what you want.  She also joked that her long-term care plan is that she has 3 daughters (and long-tem care insurance.)

But what do you do if you are caring for a parent now?  As a friend said to me today after her 92-year old mother went to the hospital with a hip fracture – “If I just knew what to plan for now –how long, what resources, what’s next. ”  But as those of us who have found ourselves in caregiving mode, planning need to happen a long time ago.  We just bump from crisis to crisis now – juggling life and catching our breath when we can.

This is a particularly important topic for women because we live longer and generally have lower incomes to support ourselves as we age.  The Volunteers of America survey said that among women caregivers, almost half (48%) say the recent economic downturn has made it harder for them to care for older loved ones.

And this is a middle class problem. As panel members noted — lots of money and you can pay for care, no money and you’ll qualify for government programs.  But a pension, Social Security and some savings and you’ll be figuring out how to pay for this care on your own.

 It’s not just the conversations at home – it’s flexibility in the workplace.  Almost half of the women surveyed (ages 45-65) expect to be called on to provide care to an older family member at some point in the future.  Yet elder-care doesn’t get the same flexibility in the workplace.  And the nature of eldercare giving is different – lots of doctor’s appointments and crisis events.

Volunteers of America says this is the beginning of a year-long discussion about women and aging.  That’s a good thing.  Because we’ve got a lot to talk about – and hopefully it can begin at home with a conversation today – or around Father’s Day if you need an event – to begin to talk about long-term care before the crisis hits.  It’s not just about money (though it’s an important part of the conversation)  it’s gaining the emotional intelligence so when the time comes you feel like you are on the preferred path.

 Michelle Singletary begins her column:  “The time has come.” 

Yes, it has.

America’s Caregiving and Aging Challenges, Volunteers of America research

video of Women and Aging panel discussion

Aging with Options program

Written by Laura Rossman

May 18, 2010 at 7:08 pm