March 22, 2023

Caregiving Obstacles When You Are Alone

Caregiving and its effect on a family generated some excellent comments and areas of discussion. This subject is one that causes anxiety or some trepidation in all of us. There was a general agreement that planning and cooperation among all parties are essential. Unfortunately, it was also clear that sometimes the person requiring the care does not make this an easy situation.

One regular reader, Rick, (I love alliteration) wondered if I would ask for your thoughts on a particularly vexing circumstance involving caregiving. One of his comments included this plea for feedback: 

 "The challenges and plans for those who are single, widowed, divorced, and/or childless and those with minimal, absent, or unwilling families to turn to."

Caregiving when the patient is agreeable and there is an available support system of family or friends is tough enough. 

Caregiving when the person needing help is alone multiplies the complications enormously. Without a willing partner, nearby family or friends available to do what must be done, living in an isolated situation places the individual in need of help in quite a bind. Medical complications, depression, and a decrease in function and mobility place that person at real risk.

I did find some websites on the Internet that I will share now. But, I bet Rick, and others in similar situations now or in the future, are looking forward to your stories, ideas, and support.

Resources for those who find themselves on their own:

* An excellent article on being an "Elder Orphan" is available here. Scroll down just a bit to get to the section that might help.

 * Long Distance Caregiving has suggestions and ideas for making this a viable option, at least for a time. 

* Maybe better communication about the situations with siblings will improve the availability of care.

Childless Elders navigating their future requires real preparation. This article deals with a particular informational event, but there is plenty of general information to make it worth reading.

OK, now your turn. What ideas, approaches, or warm hugs can you offer to those of us facing a future without obvious support.

March 18, 2023

The Sticky Question of Leaving An Inheritance


The last time I wrote about leaving an inheritance was six or seven years ago. I remember there were strong feelings expressed on all sides of the issue. The comments expressed powerful opinions like these:

*Yes, I feel I should leave my family enough to make their lives a bit easier. I have plenty, and I know others would benefit by what I can leave them. My parents left me an inheritance that was tremendously helpful. It's my turn."

*I  scrimped and saved for retirement, supporting others, and forgoing some of what I have always dreamed of. So, No, I will not shortchange this time of life so I can get gratitude after I am gone."

*My adult children have the same opportunities I did. I don't want them to depend on what I can leave them."

*I plan on leaving my grandkids as much as I can. The world is a tough place, and I want to make it easier for them."

For most of us, retirement requires some serious financial planning and often a fair amount of sacrifice and delayed gratification. One part of that financial planning that isn't talked about very often is the issue of leaving an inheritance to children, grandchildren, relatives, or an organization we feel strongly about. 

You have probably seen the bumper sticker, "I'm spending my kid's inheritance," on the back of a large RV. We may also know people who live a very restricted and limited retirement so money can be left for others after their passing.

I kept an email received from a reader not too long ago that asked what degree of sacrifice we are comfortable making in this regard. If your parents left you part of their estate, do you feel you should do the same?  Or, was their decision theirs to make and not necessarily yours to follow?

One thing about the place of inheritance in retirement planning is that there is no correct answer. I believe this is a very personal choice. Family dynamics, your own feeling of financial security, what relatives did, and your lifestyle choices all affect how you respond.
Basic Internet research refers to some studies that show somewhere around one-half of all retirees plan on leaving an inheritance. Of course, "leaving an inheritance" doesn't say if that means a large nest egg or enough to handle end-of-life expenses with some money left over.

But, that research makes it clear that maybe 50% of us do not actively plan on leaving an inheritance. If it happens, OK. If not, fine. So many retirees are worried about providing for themselves without being a burden on their adult children or relatives that the thought of leaving extra money is a non-starter.

I could find no historical data that indicates whether these percentages are affected by recessions or boom times. This decision seems to be driven more by emotion than economics.

So, Here are some key questions for you to mull over:

*Is it a "responsibility" of the parents to help their kids or relatives with a good-sized portfolio?

*Or, rather than a responsibility, is an inheritance a way we can show love?

*Or, have we decided to start distributing our projected inheritance now, over time, rather than waiting until we are gone?

*Or, do we live our retired life wisely yet fully, not scrimping to the point of discomfort or forgoing experiences,  but not trying to "die broke" by spending everything we have this side of the grass?

*Or, do we believe that we spent a tremendous amount raising our kids and now it is finally our turn to enjoy our retirement money? If there is something left over, great.

I readily admit this subject is a toughie. It was one raised when I asked for topics to write about a few weeks ago. You may feel strongly one way or the other. Or, maybe you are struggling to make a decision and are looking for feedback from others. 

I ask for your responses with one important restriction: please leave no comment that implies one way or another is selfish. As I have said, your thoughts about inheritance are very personal. Every decision and expression of that decision deserves our respect. We may disagree with the choice someone makes, but it is not up to us to tell them they are wrong.

So, what are your thoughts? What part does inheritance play in your financial planning? How can you help us all work through what is the best choice for us?

March 14, 2023

Small Sprinkles Gleam Brightly

The sky was beginning to cloud over, kids were playing, ducks were looking for bread crumbs, bikers rolled by while teens on skateboards defied gravity. Sitting in a folding chair and watching the scene, my eyes were drawn to the surface of the lake. 

The sun was at just the right angle to cover the water with sparkles. It was beautiful, I was enjoying a satisfying day. Within a few minutes, the sun's angle had changed, and the sparkles were gone. Or, were they? From someone else's viewpoint they probably were just as fabulous. They were simply gone from my view.

Isn't day-to-day life kind of like that? There are brief moments that sparkle and shimmer. We look upon them with awe. We remember them. We talk about them. Of course, real life takes place in between the sparkles. It is how we fill the space between them that matters.

Relationships are certainly made up of sparkles and spaces. There are the everyday moments in relationships that occupy most of your life. Those are the large spaces filled with chores and responsibilities, making tough decisions, cooking, cleaning, compromising, and shopping. These don't really sparkle. They are the mundane activities that fill your day whether you are alone or in any form of relationship. They are what we call living.

Then there are those times when you, your spouse or significant other,  your best friend, or simply you and your environment are exactly on the same page. Everything is going according to plan. You are communicating well and any disagreements are minor. If you have children or grandkids, there are times when things just sparkle: a vacation by the lake, a great day at the zoo, a family night watching a favorite movie. You fill several hours with your favorite pastime, barely noticing the passage of time.

As a retired person, you have control over most of your day. At least you think you do. But, when you must wait for a repair person, or your car is in the shop you are still at the mercy of others. When you spend a few hours waiting for an overworked doctor you are reminded you are not in control quite as much as you thought. Menus must be planned, food must be bought, bills must be paid, gardens must be tended, the bike should be ridden. The days and weeks pass by so quickly you wonder where the time went.

Then, there are those moments when you grab a little time and sit down to read that new novel you've been aching to open. Your hobby bench invites you to build that project or fix the broken lamp you want back in the living room. You find some time to write, and out flows everything you have bottled up while the spaces of life are filled with everyday stuff. 

You remember you have time with the school kids tomorrow night to tutor them in math or English. As they grasp the concepts you are explaining, their smiling faces come alive and shine. Maybe you sit in the sun at the coffee shop sipping you latte, reading a favorite blog, and people-watching the afternoon away. These precious times make you feel alive and vibrant. They are the sparkle , making a day special and memorable.

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."  That is the human condition. We want a life that we control. We would like a day with nothing but sparkles. No chores, no irritations, to disappointments, no hassles.  A day that goes according to our plans.

But that isn't how things work. We can be much happier and much more satisfied when we learn to accept the large spaces into which we put our everyday life while being on the lookout for those sparkles of pure joy and beauty that brighten and enlighten. 

After all, if every meal was nothing but desserts, then desserts would not be so special. If all we saw were sparkles, they would begin to look rather ordinary and much less delightful.