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Only child? Four ways to prepare as a caregiver for aging parents

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NEW YORK -

It is hard enough to be a caregiver for elderly parents when there are multiple siblings to help.

Sometimes, there is only you.

Just ask Michael Hausknost. The financial planner from Long Beach, Calif., is helping his 90-year-old mom, Eva, as she moves from an assisted living facility into one that specializes in memory care.

Hausknost's dad passed away many years ago. His mom's other relatives are thousands of miles away in Europe. Eva has no money at this point apart from Social Security checks.

That means that everything to do with Eva's care, from emotional to financial, falls squarely on her son.

“There is no one else,” says Hausknost, 60. “It’s literally just me.”

It is a situation more and more face, as only children cope with the challenge of caring for aging parents.

That is because family size is shrinking, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In fact, the latest numbers from 2022 reveal that 19% of American women ages 40-44 have only one child – the highest percentage ever recorded in that category. By contrast, it was 9.6% in 1976.

“Only children are showing up left and right asking me about these issues,” says Joy Loverde, an eldercare consultant and author of “The Complete Eldercare Planner.” “Everything is on the line for them, especially their own careers and financial stability.”

Here are four ways only children can prepare.

Start early

If it is only you to care for elderly parents, without any sibling help, then you need to start thinking about how you will handle it as soon as possible.

“I started planning for (this) 20 years ago,” Hausknost says. “I knew that there was longevity in my family, that my mom wouldn’t go anywhere soon, and had no means herself, so I saved accordingly.”

Good thing, too: His mom’s current arrangements are running around $6,000 a month for the “bare minimum” of room and board, with other tasks (like administering medications) driving the price up from there.

Avoid raiding your own savings

If your parent has nothing and you have no choice, as with Hausknost, that is one thing. But impacting your own family’s financial future is the last thing you want to do.

“If you start dipping into your own pockets, you might be disqualifying them from state and federal programs by stepping up and paying for everything,” Loverde says.

Instead, be thoughtful and creative about using your parents’ own resources first – whether that be their own savings, insurance like long-term care policies or the family home.

There are a lot of options including selling a house and downsizing, taking out a home equity loan or line of credit and entering into a reverse mortgage.

Try to maintain your own career

If you are your parent’s safety net as an only child, it may be tempting to give up your career to become a full-time caregiver.

But removing yourself from the workplace, even if just for a few years, can have very damaging long-term consequences – and once you leave the office in midlife, it can be tough to go back.

Plus, staying at your job means you can possibly use benefit programs – which could include eldercare assistance, family leave, counselling, flexible schedules and other useful perks.

“Find out from your employer what is available if and when you have to take on that role and talk to them even before there is evidence that help is needed,” Loverde says.

Find help

Being an only child does not mean you have to handle all these complex issues alone.

First, consider if friends or other relatives – cousins, aunts, uncles – who also care deeply about your parents are able to help with time, money or both.

Second, assemble a professional team to help navigate the challenges ahead, including a financial planner to chart the money path and an estate lawyer for important documents like power of attorney or healthcare proxies.

Third, get involved in support groups, so you don't have to figure out caregiving entirely alone. A great starting point for resources of all kinds: The “Eldercare Locator,” a public service from the Administration for Community Living.

Says Hausknost: “Even if you are an only child, it’s foolish to think you can do it all yourself.”

(Editing by Lauren Young; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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