Dina Milne: Hello, I’m Dina Milne, an account executive here at Adviser Investments, and I want to welcome you to another The Adviser You Can Talk To Podcast. Today, we’re talking about the sandwich generation and the financial decisions and responsibilities that many of them are taking on.
Who are they? The sandwich generation refers to a generation of young-to-middle-aged adults who are “sandwiched,” so to speak, between caring for their aging parents while also raising their own children.
Dina Milne: I’m joined by my colleague Claudine Schrock who’s an account executive here at Adviser Investments. She works with clients in a relationship capacity, having regular discussions about elder planning. She’s very passionate about the topic, has worked with many families and has personally dealt with this situation as well. She has noticed that this has become a more frequent topic that’s coming up, and she wanted a solution to make things easier. So she created a comprehensive guide to help with these changing family dynamics. Claudine, why don’t you summarize the steps for us, and then we can dive deeper into each one of them.
Claudine Schrock: It is a very important discussion, Dina, but if you can handle these four steps, you can be successful. One, you need to get to the conversation with your aging parents. Two, you need to organize. Three, you need to take action. And four, you need to follow through.
Dina Milne: Well, I’m eager to get started, so let’s dive into the first step: Getting the conversation started. In some instances I believe, the aging parents will realize that they need help, and they’ll initiate the dialogue, but that’s not always the case. Claudine, tell us a little bit more about some of the challenges, and things to keep in mind.
Claudine Schrock: Sure. It can be a very difficult conversation, from both the adult child’s perspective and the adult parent’s perspective. From the adult child, they could be thinking, “Am I capable of making these decisions? Am I taking away my parent’s voice if I take on more responsibility for them?” From the aging parent’s perspective: “Am I ready to give up control? Am I being a burden to my children?”
Claudine Schrock: Aagain, we’re dealing with legal decisions, financial decisions. Acknowledging mortality can be very emotional, hot topic conversations. You’ll know your family dynamic a lot better than we will, but there are three approaches that we’ve used with many families over the past that we’ve found to be super successful. The first approach is to just take a very non-confrontational manner about this conversation.
Dina Milne: For instance, you talk to your mom and dad, and say, “Hey, mom and dad. I just met with my adviser, or with my estate planning attorney, we had a conversation and I learned that such and such. It was very helpful. When was the last time you talked to your adviser or you talked to your estate planning attorney?”
Claudine Schrock: Exactly. Approach two is a little bit more challenging, and that’s essentially to just keep the window open. It’s not necessarily a one and done conversation when you’re bringing this up to aging parents.
Dina Milne: What does that sound like, Claudine?
Claudine Schrock: That could be something along the lines of just addressing it right off the bat: “Mom and dad, I can tell you’re uncomfortable with this conversation. I’m visibly uncomfortable with this conversation, but because I love you and I’m trying to act as your agent if and when you’re not able to speak up for yourself, I have to know what your wants and wishes are so that I can take care of you. Let’s table it for now. Now’s not the right time, but let’s agree to have this conversation again in six months and see if anything has changed. Can I at least get your agreement on that?”
Again, keep the window open. It’s not a one and done, but try to keep the momentum going.
Dina Milne: Right.
Claudine Schrock: Because it is so important to have this conversation. The third approach is to queue the fall guy.
Dina Milne: That would be us: You and myself or an estate planning lawyer …
Claudine Schrock: Absolutely. Some of the families that we help have found it to be very powerful to bring in a third-party, objective voice into this conversation, so the heat is taken off of their shoulders. It’s not directly coming from the children where there might be some disagreement or animosity for the parents to actually understand this conversation and to listen to it. We’ve found it has been helpful to have us come in and be the third-party voice of reason, a calming voice. We could use many adjectives to describe how we help folks.
Dina Milne: This reminds me of a family that we worked very closely with. It was an aging couple. Their children had moved across the country and they started realizing that their parents needed a little bit of help. The parents were not open to the conversation when the daughters tried to initiate that dialogue. It took a little bit of time, and every now and then the daughters would try to reopen it—kind of keep the window open and try to encourage their parents to talk to them, to be open to maybe some changes. They were not.
Dina Milne: Eventually, there was a medical issue. The father actually had a fall and was in the hospital for a while. When he got out of the hospital, both he and his wife realized that they needed a little bit of help, and they were open to having the daughters come in. The daughters, of course, involved us. With us helping with some of the structuring and working with the estate planning attorney as well, we tried to make sure that from a financial and legal perspective everything was set up for them. We were able to give the daughters peace of mind and help that transition move along smoothly. Now that the conversation is initiated, what does the planning look like, and what are we trying to accomplish?
Claudine Schrock: We’re going back to step number two here: The organizational piece. My advice to you listening, if there’s multiple family members or maybe if your family is not always on the best terms, is to certainly have a private conversation with your parents to just kind of get an idea of the lay of the land. What that means is to review, from a legal perspective, what has been done or what needs to be updated.
Claudine Schrock: For example, is there a personal representative named in their documents? Is there a power of attorney in their documents? When was the last time they reviewed their estate plan with their attorney? From an investment perspective, and from a financial perspective, where is everything held investment-wise versus cash accounts? Can anything be consolidated to save everyone some collective time and energy? Do any registrations need to be changed on the existing accounts?
Claudine Schrock: From a healthcare perspective, this ties in with the legal situation, is there a healthcare proxy named if and when someone needs to make decisions for your parents if they’re not able to? Do you know who the doctors are? Do you know what medications they’re on?
Claudine Schrock: From a technological perspective—since in this day and age a majority of us do live our lives online—email, bank accounts, memberships, etc. If we need to get onto any of those accounts for our parents, how do we do that? Do we know where the passwords are? Is that feasible?
Claudine Schrock: Then just a step that I think gets overlooked quite frequently. It’s to deal with the softer side, the emotional side. From a daily living perspective, can they live successfully in their home and age and place? Do renovations need to be taken into consideration if they want to stay? Do we need to get home health aides? And pets—who takes care of them if there’s an emergency? We can go down a rabbit hole of different conversations here, but those are the high gloss, from 30,000 feet things to think of and organize right off the bat.
Dina Milne: This is where a checklist would be very helpful, and we have one linked to the description of this podcast. Remember that this going to be a work in progress, so you’ll be adding to it as different things pop up, but it will keep you on track and is definitely helpful. Having a plan in place is great, but how do you ensure that it’s adhered to, and who takes accountability?
Claudine Schrock: What I would recommend is having a family agenda prior to getting other family members involved that you can share ahead of time, folks can process and of course when you’re having these conversations with multiple family members, you can make edits, notes and so forth. This is also important when there are multiple family members—whether it’s siblings, nieces, nephews, etc.—if there are multiple goals we’re trying to accomplish for an aging parent, essentially to spread out the wealth of the burden across multiple family members. This allows folks to read the agenda, process it and raise their hand and designate their own roles as opposed to being forced into something that they might not be comfortable with.
Claudine Schrock: This reminds me specifically of a woman we helped. She’s in her 90s. We’ll just call her “Dolly” for our purposes today. She has multiple properties: One up here in the northeast region, one down in Florida and she herself is blessed with multiple children who are all actively involved in her care. She’s also visually impaired, so that requires a high degree of commitment from her children to help her just do her day-to-day activities, as well as to manage her household, so on and so forth. In this situation, none of the children had raised their hands and said, “You know what? I want to jump in as the CFO, as the alpha child, and essentially manage my other siblings to make sure that everything is being taken care of for Dolly and her family.”
Claudine Schrock: Unfortunately, she had noticed and we had noticed separately that throughout this transition, some items had fallen through the cracks, which had pained Dolly greatly. This allowed us to step in to help provide further value, to give her peace of mind, and we said, “You know what, Dolly? Let us be the alpha child. We already know your family in quite a good detail. We know your situation. We know what you’re looking to accomplish and what your wants, needs and desires are. Let us help you further and be that alpha child and check in with your children every so often, call in to the family meeting when you have them and just provide that additional level of protection for you.”
Claudine Schrock: That’s another way to approach it—if maybe none of the kids are raising their hands to be that essential CFO. Then, of course, back to my earlier point: If you’re meeting consistently and reviewing agendas, just make sure that someone’s updating that and it’s shared appropriately with the rest of your family. So for future risk mitigation, or changes, everything is accomplished in a timely fashion and shared appropriately.
Dina Milne: We focused quite a bit on a lot of topics here, but you raised a good point now. It’s important not to lose sight of the emotional impact that this kind of transition can take on both the aging parents as well as the adult children. What tips and advice do you have for us that can help the parents retain some of their independence and not feel like they’re putting all the burden on family members?
Claudine Schrock: From a bias reference, if the adult child is making the decisions or in the position to make more of the decisions for their parent, they need to take a step back and always answer the question, “Is this what my parent would want or need?” Not, “Is this what I feel comfortable with?” Which is just how we’re naturally programmed and it can be difficult to train yourself to do.
Claudine Schrock: From the adult parent’s perspective, if they want to continue to keep their independence, and not have to burden their children, or call their children or family members with issues, there’s a plethora of services available to folks this day and age based on technology. For example, if you just pick up your smartphone that’s handy and you look in your App Store or your Google Play Store, you can use an app for just about anything these days: Ridesharing apps if you’re not driving and you need to get around. There’s an app called TaskRabbit if you need to get chores or errands done. There’s also medical apps out there to share information on a real-time basis with other family members if there is some sort of medical event happening, which has been very helpful from what we’ve heard from the clients we help.
Claudine Schrock: On a more traditional level, if you prefer to talk to someone in person or call someone over the phone—if you’re maybe not so tech-friendly, we have a ton of clients who’ve worked with South Shore Elder Services because they’re local in the Boston area, that have just raved about that. Additionally, we help families all across the U.S. and have heard wonderful things from similar services at say, the Veterans Administration or American Association of Retired Persons. If you want to keep your independence and do this, you have the resources to do so.
Claudine Schrock: One other thing that I wanted to mention is that even if we are having these conversations, and say the adult child is more present in the conversations, it doesn’t mean that the parent has to be cut out. For example, we work with a woman who is in the New York area. She is close to 90 years old—a wonderful woman, totally with it. For her benefit and to reduce her anxiety, she brought her son on as power of attorney, and he’s been very involved in her decisions and the conversations from a legal perspective since this happened. When we have conversations, we have conversations with both of them. It’s very transparent, and she has the ability to raise her hand and tap out if it’s too much of the minutia and she doesn’t want to be bothered. She would just rather have her son do it. Again, use your kids as agents, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you lost your voice or you’re cut out completely and don’t have any say.
Dina Milne: I think the takeaway here is, in general, we’re living a lot longer thanks to medical advancements. Statistics are showing now that more adult children are finding themselves in the sandwich position, so it’s crucial to approach this with as much preparedness possible. Claudine has done a great job outlining a very simple approach to this transition. If we follow the four steps that would be a great start. Just to recap those (1) it’s important to get a conversation started, (2) approach it in an organized way, (3) take action and then (4) review that action at least twice a year maybe—just to make sure that everything is on track.
Claudine Schrock: I’d even say as frequently as possible if there’s some sort of medical or mental change.
Dina Milne: Right. That’s a good point. This is a big topic and it can be a difficult one. We’ve helped so many families through it. It’s just very important to have the conversation before it gets too late.
Dina Milne: This has been Dina Milne, and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Claudine Schrock. We thank you for listening to another The Adviser You Can Talk To Podcast. If you’ve enjoyed this conversation, please subscribe to our show. You can also check us out at www.AdviserInvestments.com/podcast. If you have any topics that you’d like us to explore, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love your feedback and to hear back from you. Thank you.