Raising children is demanding and expensive enough without the added responsibility of supporting aging parents at the same time. But many people find themselves in that very position.
Meet the “sandwich generation,” and while their numbers have edged up slightly in recent years, their financial outlay has increased markedly. This increase can be attributed to rising healthcare costs and longer life expectancy, according to Frank Muscat, assistant vice president at Amica Life. But there is actually another, more telling factor at work: the heightened pressure on middle-aged parents to financially assist their grown children.
“Many parents today are experiencing an added burden with their adult children, who are still in school or struggling to establish themselves, even as other demographic groups have benefited from the economic recovery,” Muscat says. “In years past this wasn’t the case nearly as much.” A Pew Research Center study found that about three-quarters of adults age 40 to 59 with at least one grown child, and half of those at least 60 years old, have given their child financial support in the last year.1
Handling the ‘emotional stress’
Many adults in the sandwich generation find it rewarding to provide support for their adult children and parents, but it’s not always a picnic. When the elderly parents of Carol Abaya, who operates sandwichgeneration.com, both fell ill in the early 1990s, she stepped in as their primary caregiver. She spent two hours a day traveling to and from their home, and struggled to strike a balance between her public relations business and her personal life.
“I wasn’t prepared to handle the emotional stress that I felt when I had to suddenly take over everything from my parents,” she once told the New York Times. “It was physically exhausting; many nights I cried myself to sleep.” She sought advice, but none was available at the time.2
“What makes the emotional and financial burdens carried by the sandwich generation unique is that they are so difficult to plan for,” Muscat says.
“What makes the emotional and financial burdens carried by the sandwich generation unique is that they are so difficult to plan for.”– Frank Muscat, assistant vice president at Amica Life
Throwing out a lifeline
That said, if and when it seems likely that your parents will need help, you can take some practical steps to prepare. One of the most crucial is to review your life insurance and determine whether it’s adequate.
“The purpose of life insurance is to help protect your income and provide for your family in the event you’re no longer here, so that they can maintain a comfortable lifestyle,” Muscat says. “At the time you purchased your policy, supporting your parents may not have been part of the picture. But if they were to become financially dependent on you, you would want to make sure that the money is there to help provide financial support for caregivers, should you pass away unexpectedly.”
If you’re a member of the sandwich generation, talk to a trusted life insurance specialist about taking a fresh look at your existing coverage. “If you have a term policy that’s due to expire, it may make sense to purchase a whole life policy so that it remains in force for as long as it may be needed,” Muscat notes.
Ultimately, you may find it unnecessary to make any changes at all. “The important thing is to be prepared,” Muscat says. “A proactive approach now can help you address any coverage gaps and help protect your loved ones – both those you raised, and those who raised you.”
1 The Sandwich Generation: Rising Financial Burdens for Middle-Aged Americans, Pew Research Center, 2013.
2 In Person: A Survival Course for the Sandwich Generation, New York Times, 1999.
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ALIC34918 (exp. 12/19)