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Talk more than turkey this holiday season

The holiday season is here, and for most Americans it brings a rush of good cheer, the fun of choosing just the right gifts and wrapping paper, the bracing chill of winter air and – perhaps best of all – the joy of breaking bread (or wishbones) with friends and family from near and far.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t get to spend time in conversation with our loved ones as often as we’d like. That’s why when the celebrations die down and there’s a moment to talk more than turkey, the discussion often revolves around key family issues.

One of those issues is health and aging. That’s because as life spans increase, many siblings are sharing responsibility for taking care of Mom and Dad. For some, the contributions are strictly financial, but for others they include helping with cooking, cleaning, transportation and more. That’s especially tricky for those who are working, raising children and tending to aging parents too.

Stretched to the max

According to a CBS poll, 21 percent of Americans are caring for their parents or have done so in the past. What’s more, an even greater percentage is worried that the time to provide elder care will soon arrive: 64 percent are concerned about looking after their parents in the future, including 4 out of 10 who are very concerned.1

And what about the kids? Looking out for the younger generation, at least in terms of finances, is a prolonged process these days. In fact, 59 percent of parents are providing monetary support to their adult children. The majority of parental help goes toward housing (50 percent), living expenses (48 percent), transportation costs (41 percent), insurance coverage (35 percent), spending money (29 percent) and medical bills (28 percent).2

No matter whether their contributions are financial, physical or both, employees dealing with the twin demands of parents and kids often worry about what would happen to their loved ones if they, themselves, were sick or injured. That’s why so many rely on their employers to provide access to voluntary health insurance that helps with bills in the event of illness or injury.

Important policies, important family protection

More time to talk? Here are some additional topics to discuss while the family’s united over the holidays:

  • Wills – Does everyone in your family who needs a will have one in place? Wills determine not only what happens to money and possessions, but also who will care for minor children. Without a will in place, state laws and courts make those decisions.

  • Living wills – When individuals are terminally ill and unable to communicate, living wills can speak for them by outlining which treatments they’d find acceptable and which they’d prefer to decline. When discussing living wills with your family, also consider discussing organ donation and even funeral preferences. These topics aren’t easy, but they help survivors make unified decisions.

  • Durable powers of attorney – A durable power of attorney appoints another individual to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. There are two types: one that deals with legal and financial issues, and another that addresses health-care decisions.

  • Important documents – Make sure family members know where to find important documents, as well as where to find the addresses and phone numbers of important contacts, such as attorneys, physicians, insurance companies, banks and employers.

  • Trusts – Trusts can be used to manage assets or to designate how and when funds will be distributed to beneficiaries, including minors or dependents that are not skilled at managing money.

While there are many voluntary policies to choose from, as an employer or broker who’s concerned about the multi-generational demands placed upon today’s workers, here are a few to consider making available to employees:

  • Disability insurance helps protect an employee’s most valuable asset: the ability to earn a living. When workers are doing triple duty by supporting themselves, their children and their parents, missed paychecks can spell disaster for several generations of one family. Disability insurance pays a percentage of an employee’s salary if he or she has a covered sickness or injury, and some policies provide benefits not only in the event of total income loss, but also in the event of partial income loss.

  • They say it’s wise to expect the best but prepare for the worst, and life insurance is the perfect example of that adage. When a family caregiver or financial provider dies, the effect can reverberate through several generations of a family. It can even dramatically change survivors’ standard of living. Life insurance benefits can be used to pay leftover medical costs, or to pay bills such as the mortgage or rent, household expenses, caregiving costs – even to ensure a child can do something as simple as continue piano lessons or as momentous as attend college.

  • Accident insurance allows workers to stay ahead of the out-of-pocket expenses that add up quickly after an unexpected injury. Benefits can be used to help pay for emergency treatment, hospital stays and medical exams, as well as to help with treatment-related transportation and lodging costs.

  • Caregivers aren’t immune to life-threatening situations. Critical care and recovery insurance helps pay for treatment related to serious, life-altering events such heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure or third-degree burns.

  • Hospital indemnity insurance helps with out-of-pocket costs associated with serious accidents or illnesses. If caregivers are hospitalized, they receive cash benefits that can be used to help with living expenses, including the house payment, utility bills, groceries, credit cards, child or elder care and other necessities.

Don’t delay important family decisions

Conversations about how to help parents survive and thrive in their later years aren’t fun, but they’re necessary. By engaging in frank discussions about providing Mom and Dad with financial support and care before either need arises – and while parents can share in the decision-making process – siblings avoid emergency situations that often lead to family discord.

Remember the 21 percent of Americans surveyed who are caring for aging parents or who’ve done so in the past? Forty-three percent of them said the process resulted in family disputes.1 And no one wants that kind of tension at the holiday table.

Sources

1 CBS, “Poll: 20% in U.S. Care for Aging Parents,” accessed Oct. 10, 2013 - http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500160_162-2492679.html
2 Harris Interactive for Forbes Woman and the National Endowment for Financial Education, “Nearly 60% of Parents Provide Financial Support to Adult Children,” accessed Oct. 10, 2013 - http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2011/05/20/parents-provide-financial-support-money-adult-children/