Top tips for members of the sandwich generation

How to cope when you are caring for your children and your parents

"The term sandwich generation was initially introduced during the 1980s to describe middle-aged women caring for their aging parents and their children at the same time, but today the term is more involved," according to The Journal of Financial Services Professionals.

The phenomenon of the sandwich generation is occurring earlier in life because people continue to put off child rearing into their 30s and 40s. At the same time, people remain in the sandwich generation longer because parents continue to provide various forms of support to their adult children. This support is not limited to money, but ongoing emotional support and care of grandchildren if necessary.

Prepare for the worst
The increase in the need for elder care is due to people living longer, according to A Place For Mom. This will also increase the sandwich generation, because the baby-boomer generation is reaching retirement age in record numbers. George Kiamos, a lawyer with Catania, Mahon, Milligram, & Rider PLLC in Newburgh, describes estate planning as preparing for the worst.

"You don't want to leave loved ones behind with the burden of what happens to your possessions," Kiamos says. He goes on to explain, "It is extremely important for people in their 40s and 50s to have a will and it is critical for people of any age with children under 18, especially if they have been divorced or have unique assets or family dynamics." A will is a legal document stating an individual's desires related to their possessions, finances and dependents in the event of their passing.

"Update your will as necessary, especially for life events including, births, deaths, marriages and divorces, but at least every five years," Kiamos insists. The will can also be accompanied with the name guardian(s) for minor children, a living will, power of attorney (POA) and healthcare proxy. Kiamos says, "A living will is the medical document stating your desires for medical care when lacking capacity to do so. Executing estate planning with these documents offers peace of mind to those leaving their families behind."

READ MORE: How has parenting changed?

Kiamos clarifies, "Estate planning needs vary based on individual circumstances and consider all of the relevant variables in one's life. Kiamos points out, "People try to use online sites to create wills, but they don't cater to specific needs, so you need to speak to a professional about your personal situation." A website is not going to know what kind of financial variables people have, not to mention retirement accounts, life insurance and real estate.

Have the tough conversations
Those in the sandwich generation need to take the time to have the tough conversations with their parents about their plans for their possessions and passing. These conversations may feel uncomfortable but can have lasting impacts on planning for the future.

As an example, Kiamos describes a parent's desire to leave their family home to a child after passing. "Revealing this information can help families strategize for minimizing tax and other liabilities. Additionally, an estate may be required to pay federal and/or state tax if its total value exceeds a certain threshold. Individuals with high net worth may consider transferring assets prior to death to avoid such tax liability."

People in the sandwich generation set up trust accounts when they want to make sure money set aside for their minor children is used for their care. Kiamos notes, "Death sometimes brings out the worst, but planning helps reduce the drama, because there is less uncertainty." Creating a will with aging parents is the opportunity for all relevant family members like siblings to voice their opinions, but the final decision falls on the aging parent to decide what happens in the end. This way everyone can focus on grieving when the loved one eventually passes.

Stuck in the middle with you
"Nearly half of all adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent over 65, and are either raising young children, or are still providing financial support to their children over 18," according to a report from The Pew Research Center.

Brenda Lasher, 52, lives in Hyde Park with her 4 children. Three of these children are over the age of eighteen, the youngest is fourteen and entering high school this fall. Lasher and her eldest daughter Becky handle the majority of the day-to-day care for Lasher's mother, Lavina. Lavina lives in her own apartment in Hyde Park.

READ MORE: More stories of parents in the sandwich generation

Lasher explains, "I go food shopping for Ma, at least once, or twice a week and Becky usually makes any last-minute runs to the store if she calls saying she needs anything. I also take her to the doctor about five to six times a month, but we were going about four times a week just recently when she was not well." Lasher's four children joined the conversation, all eager to share how much their mother does for them, which led me to ask her what she does for herself. "There is not much I do within my day that doesn't revolve around someone else's needs," Lasher says.

AARP suggests, those in the sandwich generation need to take time for themselves to handle the added stress of caring for multiple generations. Lasher describes her mother as capable of providing basic care for herself, but most of it is from memory now that she is blind in one eye. "Leftovers from every meal are individually packaged and stored for Ma, and we complete her medication maintenance with her pill sorters every two weeks," Lasher states.

Some of Lavina's care has been split between her children and each of them have responsibilities that makes planning for the future much easier. Lasher explains, "I am not able to take care of Ma by myself. My brother is always available to lend a helping hand whenever Ma needs anything, my sister is her POA and handles all of the bills, and I'm her healthcare proxy, probably because of Nicole."

Lasher's oldest daughter Nicole was born with cerebral palsy. She lived a magnificent 27 years, passing in 2013. Lasher was spread even thinner back then when her children were younger and was still managing Nicole's care.

Care for yourself too
It is great to help and care for the ones we love, but don't forget to care for you. Those sandwiched between the generations are handling homework at one moment and detecting a senior moment in the next, is an example of the emotional squeeze from both sides.

It is recommended to take personal time for oneself as a caregiver to help maintain your own identity. It may seem selfish, but if the caregiver isn't well, they are unable to provide the loving care both generations need.

Kristina Lasher has her B.S. in Communications with a focus in culture. She is a married mother of two daughters and two step-daughters.