After she fell and broke her hip in 2012, Sherri Erwin moved her elderly mother, Dorothy Sharp, home from a care center. The Fort Worth, Texas resident paid the mortgage, car note and insurance benefits with her mother’s Social Security income and $20,000 of her own savings. But after a dispute in January 2018 with a home attendant which resulted in false allegations against Erwin, her 86-year-old Alzheimer-stricken mother was reportedly relocated by Adult Protective Services to a one-star nursing home.

“Bringing in a home attendant was supposed to give me relief, but instead it just gave me a whole new set of problems,” says Erwin, 54.

Erwin paid $10,000 to an attorney in an unsuccessful attempt to regain custody of her mother.

“I still owe $1,400,” she says. “I pay $10 a month.”

Erwin is just one of 71 percent of Americans who’ve made financial sacrifices as a caregiver, and among the 21 percent who have had to dip into personal savings in the process of being a caregiver, according to a Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study called The Journey of Caregiving: Honor, Responsibility and Financial Complexity.

Some 20 million Americans became unpaid caregivers last year, according to the study.

Losing sleep, coupled with the stress over finances, just adds to the burden of the caregiver, says Merrill Lynch financial advisor Heather Evans.

“The idea behind financial wellness while you're going through this caregiving process is to not be worried about money so much,” says Evans, who notes that her caregiving clients adhere to financial wellness guidelines such as living within the confines of a spending plan, having low debt, and contributing to a savings plan and insurance coverage.

The toll that caregiving takes on a person is not only financial but also emotional. Evans emphasizes self-care to promote emotional wellness through family leave.

“Family leave is the escape valve that permits you to focus on critical family needs now and still get back to your job,” she says.

Based on a nationwide sample of more than 2,200 respondents, including 2,010 caregivers, the Merrill Lynch/Age Wave study reveals that 88 percent of caregivers are financial coordinators responsible for paying bills, monitoring bank accounts, filing taxes and managing invested assets. However, 49 percent of those providing financial caregiving don't have the legal authority to do so.

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