Tips for Making Caregiving Easier and Financially Smart

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At some point in life, just about everyone becomes a caregiver or a financial caregiver to a family member or loved one. If you are a caregiver or know someone who is, you probably have some stories about how overwhelming it can be—emotionally and otherwise. Being a caregiver requires love, time, and patience. It also requires some financial oversight—an aspect of caregiving that often doesn’t get the proper attention it deserves.  

Below are some valuable tips on preparing adequately for the role as a caregiver.

1.    Talk about caregiving now, before it’s too late

While discussing money with aging parents may seem difficult, it doesn’t have to be. The fact is, current and future caregivers need to know the answers to some key questions. They should also let their loved ones know that it’s in their best interest to address these issues now:

  • Has their loved one saved money? If so, how much?

  • What’s their source of income?

  • Do they have investments and/or insurance policies?

  • Who is their financial advisor, attorney, and CPA?

  • Do they want to live in an assisted living facility or would they prefer to live at home?

  • Have they planned for elder care and/or can they pay for elder care?

  • Do they have long-term care insurance?

Discussing these things when the person is healthier and able to make decisions can make it easier for the caregiver to make the necessary decisions when the time comes.

2.    Review estate planning documents

A caregiver should know if their loved one has prepared estate planning documents, and should make sure that their will and power of attorney are up to date.

A living will and health care proxy are some of the most important estate planning documents to take care of right away. They are more about how the caregiver would handle medical treatment while their loved one is still living, but can no longer express their health care wishes or make medical decisions on their own. Again, the best time to do this is while all parties are healthy and of sound mind. But, if that ideal time passes, it should still be a top priority. It’s never too late to get these things in order.

3. Keep financial documents organized and accessible

Important documents should not only be reviewed and updated, but also kept in a secure and accessible place. These documents include wills, powers of attorney, investment statements, insurance policies, bank account statements, and so on. They should all be kept together in one place with relevant passwords. More on financial aspects of caregiving later in the article.

4. Know what’s important to your loved one

Generally, a caregiver’s number-one priority is to do what their loved one would want them to do. For that reason, it’s important that caregivers take the time to talk with their loved ones about their preferences for receiving care:

  • Is it important to them not to “be a burden” on their children?

  • Are they OK with living in an assisted-living or nursing home?

  • Would they rather live at home?

While caregivers may not be able to fulfill all of their wishes, they can make the best decisions possible if they know what their loved ones prefer.

5. Seek professional advice

Caregivers should seek two types of professional advice—financial and legal—when it comes to planning for their loved ones.

6. Look into public benefits

Many times, public benefits are available to assist with the care of the elderly. Veterans and their spouses may qualify for certain government programs (such as Medicare and Social Security). Medicaid may also be available for those who are over age 65 or under the federal poverty limit. You can check the eligibility of your clients and their loved ones at BenefitsCheckUp.org.

7. Supervise finances even while the loved one still can

Since elderly parents’ ability to manage their own finances may begin to deteriorate at any time (sometimes as early as age 60), a caregiver should begin monitoring their spending and bank accounts the minute there are any signs of confusion or struggle. This is especially important to protect against fraud and late fees resulting from missed bill payments.

8. Keep them safe from scams and online hackers

More and more we have seen the elderly being targeted by email and telephone scams, as well as online hackers and scam artists. Recently, there has been a wave of IRS imposters who have used aggressive measures to collect supposed “unpaid taxes” from the vulnerable and unknowing elderly.

Caregivers should be aware of the real possibility that their elderly parents might get taken advantage of; being proactive is crucial in preventing such events. Continuously remind the parent or family member of potential scams. Give them examples. Tell them to never click on links in unfamiliar emails, avoid social media strangers, never answer personal security questions from an incoming caller, and always use hard-to-guess passwords. If the loved one is unsure of anything, the caregiver should encourage them to call immediately for advice.

9. Consider how the caregiver’s lifestyle and finances will be impacted

The last thing clients should do is allow their caregiving role to become a full-time job. While it may often feel like one, caregivers should try to keep working if they can. Having a job will help them maintain a source of income that can ease the strain of financially supporting their loved one, if that becomes necessary. More than that, keeping a job helps caregivers maintain a well-balanced life—as much as they can.

Many companies offer benefits to employees who become caregivers. For instance, they may offer paid time off when caregiving responsibilities arise, as well as offer some flexibility for arriving late or leaving early. Juggling work with caregiving can become extremely difficult, especially if people haven’t communicated their situation to their employer. In some cases, employers even offer dependent-care assistance programs which allow employees to pay for eligible care expenses on a pretax basis. It’s worth discussing.

10. Take care and get support!

Caregiving can be taxing, and can often affect someone’s  life personally, professionally, and financially. For instance, the a caregiver may frequently miss work for doctor’s appointments and other caregiving obligations. It’s also common for caregivers to eat less or eat in a less healthy way, lose sleep, and feel too tired to exercise or even get their daily tasks done. Additionally, their personal and family finances may be affected.

Caregivers should take time for themselves and be mindful of their emotional needs. Local support groups exist where caregivers can feel a sense of community and talk about their feelings with people who will understand. Websites like www.caregiving.com can also help create a sense of community. Caregivers should also try to maintain active communication with their spouse, siblings, and other family.

Important Tips for Financial Caregiving

Financial caregivers have a huge responsibility in making the correct money management decisions for those individuals, and need to prepare accordingly. To give caregivers more tools to make their jobs easier, and their financial management performance more effective, the ABA—and other experts contacted by TheStreet—offer a list of tips for caregivers to better understand their roles.

Know the Legal Ramifications

“Financial caregivers, such as those with a power of attorney, trustees, and federal benefits fiduciaries, are fiduciaries with a duty to act and make decisions on their loved one’s behalf,” the ABA states. “Learn the legal responsibilities of your assigned authority in order to better execute your role.”

Budget accordingly.

Caregivers may be in charge of daily, unexpected and future expenses their loved one may incur, the ABA adds: “Especially if the beneficiary has a fixed income or limited finances, it’s extremely important that caregivers minimize unnecessary costs and budget accordingly to ensure that all money is properly allocated.”

Keep information safe

Keep track of everything, advises Chris Wong, chief executive officer at LifeSite, a document management systems provider. “It’s imperative to keep financial records organized,” Wong says. “Everything from account numbers to renewal dates for insurance policies should be easily accessible and kept in a secure location.” Wong, who has a family of four and two aging parents, says losing vital paperwork is a big issue for financial caregivers. “With the number of natural disasters in the past six months alone, paper files and safe deposit boxes have been destroyed by floods and fires,” he adds. “Digital record keeping has advanced quite a bit in recent years, and a financial guardian should navigate all options.”

Watch for burnout.

Gretchen Kubacky, a psychologist in Los Angeles who acts as a financial guardian for her 76-year-old mother, advises financial guardians to know exactly what they’re getting into. “When you become a financial guardian for someone else, you rarely pause to think, ‘Am I ready for this?’” she says. “You’ll need the financial knowledge and emotional wherewithal to power through botched accounts, cash shortages, argumentative and uncooperative service reps, and the most phenomenally mind-boggling pile of papers ever, and you need to be aware of that.”

Kubacky cites burnout, resentment, frustration and depression as frequent emotional outcomes for financial caregivers as a result. “You can’t control the level of need; you may feel you’ve gotten stuck with all of it, and that it’s totally unfair,” she adds. “All of this can be frustrating.”

Look for red flags.

“Seniors have become major targets for financial abuse and fraud,” the ABA adds. “Make sure to stay alert to signs of scams or identity theft that may put your loved one’s assets in peril. Consult a banker or other professional advisors when you’re not sure what to do.”

Being a financial caregiver can be a rewarding job, but there’s no doubting it’s a tough one. Make it easier by adhering to the above tips, and up your game as a personal money manager for a loved one.

There’s been no sugar-coating here. Caregiving isn’t easy, but the proper preparation and planning will make it easier, less stressful and time-consuming. We, as financial advisors, should prepare our clients as much as we can for the possibility of caregiving in the future.