“The last few years really challenged me to keep two things in perspective: caring for the people I love most—with the toll it takes emotionally, physically and financially.”

As a three-time caregiver, Lisa would know.

Lisa, a former colleague of mine at a brokerage firm, became a parent a few years ago. She assumed she could keep her job when she became a mother, and she and her husband, Jeff, secured a slot for their son, Jake, in a daycare near her office.

Things worked well, until they didn’t.

Lisa earned more than Jeff, but she had an unpredictable schedule. A couple of times, the school needed someone to pick up Jake, but nobody was around. Lisa wondered if they could keep it up, and after a few heart-to-hearts with Jeff, she left her job and stayed out of the workforce until Jake started school.

Reversing Roles
After a few years, Lisa went back to work, Jeff was promoted, and Jake went to preschool. Things seemed normal.

But then one morning Lisa got a call that her dad was in the ER after what was suspected to be a heart attack. Her mother let her know he was stable but needed cardiac rehab. Could she come? Lisa gave her team a heads-up that she’d be gone for a week. One week turned into several. After she’d exhausted her vacation time, she took a leave so she could help Mom see Dad successfully through rehab.

Aging Alone, Together
Her father’s heart attack was a wake-up call for both parents. They decided it was time to retire, albeit earlier than planned, and enjoy life. To help compensate for their retirement savings shortfall, they downsized and moved to a state with lower costs of living. While Lisa was happy to see them thriving, she missed them. And neither family anticipated the costs of traveling to see each other. On a visit, shortly after her dad’s death, it was clear the house was too much for her mother to handle. Lisa talked her into moving back to their home state. Since buying was cost prohibitive, Lisa and Jeff converted their basement into an apartment for her mother.

The Real ‘Costs’ Of Caregiving
Lisa’s laborious experience is increasingly common.

The National Alliance for Caregiving has come up with some unsettling figures:

• The alliance says 19% of Americans provide unpaid care to an adult, and 24% of caregivers look after more than one person.

• Caregiving affects more women than men. Sixty-one percent of woman say it affects them while only 39% of men do.

• The need for caregivers cuts across the wealth management and demographic groups among your clients, with boomers, Gen Xers and millennials all being called upon for unpaid care.

• It’s also expensive to care for others. Forty-five percent of unpaid caregivers experience at least one financial impact: meaning they must stop saving, deplete their emergency funds or take on debt.

• Their work is also affected when they take on care for others. Sixty-one percent of unpaid caregivers have also experienced at least one work-related shock, meaning they have to reduce hours or pass up on a promotion.

• Caregivers’ own health is on the line, too. Twenty-three percent of caregivers say their efforts have made their health worse. If health is wealth, unpaid caregivers face additional threats to their social, emotional and physical well-being in the forms of increased healthcare costs, higher premiums, reduced retirement savings and the depletion of wealth.

A When, Not An If
For many of us, like Lisa, caregiving is a role we’ll take on repeatedly over the course of our lives.

So what can advisors do to prepare and protect their clients—and their books?

• Understand who might depend on your clients. This could include older loved ones, children, spouses, extended family, pets, even friends. Your clients’ plans are only as solid as the least prepared person in their circle.

• Get to know the people they might depend on, too. While we all hope to live happily, healthfully and independently, life happens. Do you know whom your clients would call from the ER? Have you met their trusted contacts?

• Ask about key documents. Do your clients have current and complete powers of attorney, living wills, healthcare proxies, wills, etc.? Do the people named know they are?

• Monitor your clients’ life events. When people move, change jobs or experience a serious change in their health, these things rarely occur in a vacuum. Consider asking your clients this simple question: “What’s changed in your life since we last talked?”

• Get to know their family health history. What conditions are in your clients’ family trees? How long have older relatives lived? How well? When you unpack their health issues, you can build new relationships and deepen existing ones by addressing a key financial stressor.

• Raise the subject of workplace benefits whenever it’s appropriate. Do your clients have access to caregiving support services at work, including emergency/backup care, eldercare or (increasingly) paid caregiving concierge services? Be aware that many of these workplace benefits, including most financial well-being programs, come with access to advisors.

If you don’t raise these issues with clients and their families, someone else will.

Suzanne Schmitt is a managing director at Next Chapter. Before that she served as head of financial wellness at New York Life.