By Chip Munn
Over the past couple of months, a lot of things have changed for parents. Between figuring out homeschooling and learning to transition to a work-from-home environment, many of us have had to look at life through a new lens. On the heels of COVID-19, we may need to look at planning for retirement from a new vantage point as well.
If you’re like most people, you’ve spent some time thinking about retirement. Whether it’s a gradual transition into a new, less stressful career or quick dash for the exit, thinking about “life after work” is natural. For many adults these days, planning is complicated by the fact that you are also helping your aging parents and raising your children, all at the same time.
Retirement planning can, and should, be unique and personalized. In reality, though, the process is rarely done in isolation. Depending on where you are in your journey, you might have already spoken to a financial advisor or used an online calculator to make some initial projections. One thing that the recent pandemic has reinforced though, is just how interdependent we can be on one another – especially on those closest to us.
One key to a successful financial plan is taking as many variables into consideration as possible. While no plan is foolproof, here are three questions that you can ask yourself right now to help prepare for retirement.
Where do my parents stand financially?
I have completed hundreds of retirement plans and can tell you that no parent wants to be a burden to their children. In fact, preventing dependence on their children is the number one goal for some retirees. Despite that fact, the rising cost of long-term care is not something that all seniors have prepared for financially. In fact, a 2018 survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicated that 71% of respondents age 40 and older had done little to no planning for their own long-term care needs.
Statistics show that seniors or their families can expect to pay $20 per hour, or more, for in-home care. Assisted living facilities can cost from $40,000 – $120,000 per year depending on the level of care needed. You may assume that Medicare will cover your parents’ long-term care needs, but that is not necessarily the case. Medicare will help with medical costs inside the facility, but it doesn’t cover any of the residential costs that typically make up the majority of the bill.
For those who qualify, Medicaid does assist with residential costs for long term care, but in addition to dealing with restrictions and limitations, you’ll also have had to exhaust the majority of your assets in order to be eligible. Additionally, if Medicaid is paying the bill you will face limited options for where your loved one receives care.
These factors can leave adult children with a difficult decision. Do you help financially support your parent’s care or do you spend time being their caregiver? While the latter may seem like the best option for all involved, becoming a part-time or full-time caregiver isn’t easy. According to a report from global financial services firm Morningstar, the average unpaid caregiver works 34.7 hours per week providing care, in addition to their “day job.” Of those who provided care, 70% reported having work-related difficulties as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.
That scenario is obviously not the ideal outcome for you or your parents. By taking the time and having the necessary conversation about long-term care now, you can determine your parents’ financial position and help them plan for their potential needs in advance. This could alleviate the burden on both you and your parents and allow you to focus your time and attention on their overall well-being, while others focus on their routine care.
Where are my kids financially, what expectations do they have of me and are those expectations realistic?
Rather than being a burden on the next generation, many retirees want to make things easier for their children and grandchildren. That form of “help” can take on many forms, from paying for college expenses and paying down student loan debt to helping out with the care of their grandchildren and covering childcare expenses. If you’re “sandwiched” between helping your parents and your children, this can seem overwhelming. The key is to grasp what your kid’s expectations are of you (or perhaps what expectations you have of yourself regarding your responsibility for your adult kids and grandkids) so that you can plan accordingly.
There’s no question that college can cause a financial strain on families. According to U.S. News, the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a four-year private college for the 2019-2020 school year was $41,426. For public colleges, the average annual cost was $11,260 for in-state residents and $27,120 for out-of-state students. In 2018, 69% of students took out student loans and graduated with an average debt balance of almost $30,000. It’s no wonder that students could use help with the cost of education.
While only 29% of parents plan to fully cover college costs, according to a 2018 study by Fidelity, seven in ten are actively saving for college. Whether saving for college in advance or allowing yourself “extra” retirement income that’s available for gifting, it’s imperative that your financial plan takes your (and your children’s’) funding expectations into consideration.
By taking a generational approach, families can make sure that their wealth passes from one generation to another as smoothly and efficiently as possible. One common estate planning strategy, for who want to help with college tuition, is to establish and fund 529 college savings plans for their grandchildren. A 529 college savings plan allows a donor to make gifts for the benefit of a beneficiary and reduce their taxable estate.
For 2020, the individual gifting limit is $15,000 per person per beneficiary. There is also a provision that allows for donors to contribute five years’ worth of gifts at once, provided that they file the necessary tax forms for each of the five years. That means that a married couple could contribute $150,000 per grandchild at one time. This strategy allows the grandparents to reduce their taxable estate, provides for tax-deferred growth on any investment gains and the funds can be distributed tax-free for qualified education expenses. The donor also retains control of the funds and can change beneficiaries and authorize distributions.
Are my retirement goals realistic and what are my priorities in life?
Both of the questions above require you to take an honest look at, and perhaps reevaluate, your priorities. After all, that’s what planning is all about – thinking ahead and preparing for the things that are most important to you. Have your priorities changed over the past few months because of the COVID-19 situation? I’ve spoken to many retirees who now have a dramatically different view of travel than they once did. If you’re someone who has had a hard time with working from home, have you thought about what it would be like to never go to work again? Has the world of online classes for your children caused you to look at planning for college differently? If your priorities have changed over the past few months, then any plan that you previously made is obsolete.
The first half of 2020 has given us an unbelievable opportunity to reevaluate how we spend our time, what importance we place on certain relationships and the impact that all of this potentially has on our careers. We’ve had to do things differently. No matter where you are in your journey toward retirement, no one will reach December of 2020 as the same person that they were in January. The key is to take advantage of the moment and to use it as a chance to emerge with a clearer, more accurate picture of what you want and what potential obstacles you’ll likely face so that you can approach the future with anticipation rather than apprehension.
For many parents, it’s easy to feel stuck balancing your personal goals and resources with the expectations of others. These questions will help you evaluate any gaps that you need to address, whether in your plan or the plans of others, so that you can proactively make any necessary changes to allow for a successful retirement journey.
About the author
Chip Munn is a senior financial advisor and CEO of Signature Wealth Strategies. He is the author of “The Retirement Remix: A Modern Solution to an Old School Problem,” and host of The Retirement Remix and Maximum Advisor podcasts. For more information, please visit, www.chipmunn.com and connect with him on Twitter, @chip_munn.