The “Generation War” between baby boomers and millennials is a myth. The fact is that boomers and millennials take care of each other, and face challenges in healthcare and elder planning that affect families across generations.
For all the talk of millennials being “Generation Me” and the “Peter Pan” children that never grow up, young people care deeply about their parents and grandparents. They prioritize social programs for the elderly above deficit reduction, and approve of increased funding for Social Security and Medicare in lieu of increasing the Social Security eligibility age. Eighty-four percent of 18-29 year olds feel that adult children are responsible for assisting an elderly parent if they need it. The viral Facebook post of the granddaughter distraught over her grandparents being separated to different nursing homes is just one of many examples of millennials’ compassion towards their aging loved ones.
The sad truth is that while millennials are more than willing to care for the older generations, they are woefully underprepared for it. While all ages have been affected by the economic recession, the combination of crushing student debt, high unemployment rates, and lower wages has led to a generation that’s more dependent on their parents. At the same time, middle aged people (defined as age 40-59) have earned the nickname of “sandwich generation” for caring for their aging parents and providing financial support their children, sometimes to their own detriment. Nearly 75% of adults over the age of 65 will require some type of long term care, and about 40% will require full time care in a residential facility. And that care isn’t cheap- hiring a caregiver for just an hour a day costs about $8,000 per year, and a semi-private room in a skilled nursing facility costs roughly $75,000 per year.
It’s not just financial support that older generations rely on, but it’s care and emotional support, too. I’ve seen multiple generations in the room of a nursing home resident many times, and it never fails to bring a smile to a resident’s face to spend time with their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. One-third of adults with a parent over the age of 65 say their parents relies on them “frequently” for emotional support and another one-third say they rely on them “sometimes” for emotional support, and these percentages increase significantly when one parent is deceased. Among adults who say their aging relatives require care, more than two-thirds of the care is provided by relatives, and only 14% say the care is provided via hired help.
So what do you and your family do in the face of these challenges? Advanced financial planning and saving are a must, but it’s only part of the equation. If a loved one becomes incapacitated or passes away, the last thing you want is uncertainty about what their end-of-life wishes are. Too many families become embroiled in lengthy legal battles over estates, guardianship hearings, and fights by their relative’s bedside. Avoid these emotional conflicts by getting your affairs in order now. Talk to your family about the following:
1) Basic information and documents- social security number, birth certificate, health insurance information, life insurance policies
2) Advanced directives- wills, trusts, power of attorney, “Do not resuscitate” orders and end of life decisions
3) Finances- bank account info and discussion of assets
These conversations are difficult to have, but we care too much for each other to put them off until it’s too late. Find some peace and comfort in the difficult times by knowing you’re carrying out your loved ones’ wishes.