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More boomers caring for Mom and Dad

They're tapping their own retirement savings to pay for that care, now that caregiving programs are facing budget cuts.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 13, 2011 10:17AM

This post comes from Reshma Kapadia at partner site SmartMoney.


When Maria and Bernie Staab laid out their retirement road map a while back, travel was priority No. 1 -- specifically, extended trips from their Baltimore area home to visit their grandkids in San Diego and take them to the beach and on other adventures.


The odysseys were supposed to kick in next spring, but now something else is at the top of their agenda: Bernie's mother's Alzheimer's disease.


The couple says her condition has worsened, and they're now scrambling to finance the $3,800 monthly bill for her care. Not only has Maria questioned her plan to retire from her job as a human resources manager, but Bernie even came out of retirement to work part time for a while. After all, it was that or blow through their nest egg.


The Staabs aren't the only ones being forced to choose between paying for their own golden years and paying for their parents'. Most people are well aware of the problem: As boomers reach retirement age, a growing cadre of Americans are finding themselves caring for aging relatives with increasing medical needs and dwindling financial resources.


Indeed, more than 49 million Americans, or about 20% of the population, care for someone over the age of 50 -- a number that has steadily increased over the past decade, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. Caregivers take time off from work for doctor's appointments and to look for home health care. They also dip into their own savings to pay for expenses -- even more so now that state and local caregiving programs are facing budget cuts. For many, the question isn't whether they'll face higher costs, but how they'll manage them. Post continues after video.

Lost wages and wealth

Such costs can be daunting, especially with many adult children still clawing their way back from the financial crisis. On top of out-of-pocket expenses, MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates that a person over the age of 50 will lose an average of $304,000 in total wages, benefits and accumulated wealth by caring for a parent.


Of course, that stat is worth taking with a grain of salt: MetLife had until recently sold long-term-care insurance designed to address this financial bogeyman. But financial advisers agree that most caregivers will get stuck with some hefty expenses. Now they're scrambling to offer ideas -- from concrete steps for a portfolio to rather squishy advice about chats with aging parents.


"You shouldn't sacrifice your future completely to support your parents, so it's a balance," says Steven Raymond, an adviser at Davis, Calif.-based Navion Financial Advisers, who has been dealing with the issue personally for a decade. (Are you saving enough for your own retirement? Try MSN Money's calculator.)


To try to cover extra costs, some caregivers have started investing more aggressively, but planners say that's a move where the risks outweigh the rewards. Instead, Diane Pearson, of Legend Financial in Pittsburgh, suggests caregivers set aside a chunk of their savings for these expenses -- and do so outside their 401ks or IRAs. Some advisers suggest concentrating caregiver funds in dividend-paying stocks and bonds, using the income for expenses rather than reinvesting it.


And family members can stretch money by paying attention to taxes: Caregivers, for example, can pay medical expenses directly to a hospital rather than writing a parent a check, or they can lessen the burden of capital gains taxes by giving an aging parent a gift of stock.


For those who have the luxury of time to plan, getting parents to sign up for long-term-care insurance early on can curb one of the biggest costs: assisted-living and nursing-home fees, which can easily top $50,000 a year.


While relatives may be tempted to dodge those costs by leaving their jobs to help out, many planners discourage that. "In the long run, it can be less expensive to continue to work and hire someone" to care for family members, says Sandra Timmermann, director of the Mature Market Institute. After all, advisers say the biggest risk is ending up in the same shoes as your parents -- and passing a financial burden on to your kids.


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