In the past we have considered two unique opportunities afforded us as we move from full-time work to partial or full retirement. The first was retiring “to something” as well as “from something.” The second was spiritual or intellectual growth. This week we explore a third area of opportunity described by several of the retirees we interviewed for our book “Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement” (Upper Room Books, 2010.) This third area of opportunity is giving care to a loved one during a time of illness or need. We call this as opportunity, rather than a challenge, because that is how it was consistently described to us.
About one third of the retired men and women we interviewed have had significant care giving responsibilities for a loved one since they retired. In some cases these responsibilities were expected, particularly care for an aging parent. But many could not have been anticipated, including care for an adult child disabled by an accident or illness, for a spouse who becomes ill, and for a grandchild (not due to illness of the grandchild but because the parents have become unable to carry out this responsibility.) Both men and women whom we interviewed described such responsibilities.
Giving care to an ill or injured parent, sibling, spouse, or adult child was not part of a retirement plan or vision; and neither was becoming a parent again for a grandchild. And in no case was carrying out these responsibilities easy. Yet, the experience of caring for a loved one was consistently described as a rich and rewarding experience, as a unique opportunity. Some pointed to the depth of relationship that resulted. Some described the unique sense of purpose that they felt in carrying out this responsibility. Still others derived a sense of fulfillment from being to express their love for the person they were caring for in such tangible ways.
Given how common it is for us to have care giving responsibilities for a loved one at some point during retirement, it may be helpful to think through the following questions:
1. At this point in life have you already had significant care giving responsibility for a loved one? What has it been like for you? Was there anything that someone else did for you that you found particularly helpful in carrying out this responsibility?
2. As you look forward from today, are there family circumstances that suggest the need for you to become a caregiver in the future? If so, what steps might it be wise to take in preparation for this responsibility?
3. As you think about the reality of becoming a care giver for a loved one, what do you envision as some steps you would need to take to make sure that you stay emotionally and physically healthy so as to be all you can be in this role?
As a Boomer, my heart goes out to those peers who are struggling with the older generation that tends to view nursing homes as "where you go to die". They fear the thought of entering such a facility, but as a result are often placing a heavy burden on those Boomers who are strapped for time, energy, and money in their own day-to-day lives.
We chose not to have children, and as a result elder care scenarios were a very large part of our comprehensive financial and estate planning. We wanted to be sure that if something happened to one of us, the other spouse would not suffer unduly. We are not wealthy, but have a solid financial base. Nonetheless, if one of us needed a lot of care, those assets would disappear quickly, so LTC insurance was something we considered a necessity.
Fortunately we have only one elderly parent to take care of, my MIL. Having convinced her to sell her long-time home, she now has the liquid assets necessary for any scenario of good facility care or assisted living. Her retiree medical benefits cover licensed facility only, no home care, but with her gradual decline due to dementia I don't see home care as much of a need. She's far more likely to require assisted living or full facility care at some point.
We were able to take early retirement so having her live with us is not a burden. She is still physically healthy and able to function on a daily basis. We are very lucky in this, and hope that our planning will be adequate for whatever may happen to any of the three of us in the future.
Planning is truly the key here - not just for yourselves, but for your parents and children. It's one of the reasons I believe in using a good CFP if your asset situation warrants it. People need to plan for multiple scenarios, and that's one of the most useful advantages in having a professional to assist you.
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