The sandwich generation is a term given to people who care for both their aging parents and their own children. The Office of National Statistics reported in 2017 that because our parents are living longer and we are having children later in life, it is a growing group.
The same ONS report found that one in four sandwich carers report symptoms of mental ill-health and that the prevalence of mental ill-health increases as the amount of adult care needed increases.
Fast forward to July 2020 and the stresses have only increased over recent months. This article looks at just a couple of things which have got me thinking.
Caring for the ill and elderly
The media has been full of reports about the elderly being asked, often when in a care home environment, about whether they want to receive treatment if they become ill with Covid-19.
Some people have found this very upsetting, yet it is not unusual. In more normal times pneumonia is called the "old man's friend" because, left untreated, the sufferer often lapses into a state of reduced consciousness, slipping peacefully away in their sleep, giving a dignified end to a period of often considerable suffering.
What Covid-19 has highlighted is that people don't understand the control we have over our end of life.
The UK governments consider fairly regularly whether there should be some form of assisted dying in the UK. There are strong views on both sides of the debate but, at present, the position is that you cannot legally take steps to assist the ending of another person's life. We do however have the right to consent or withhold consent to medical treatment.
My own view, and I appreciate that others will have the opposite view, is that if my quality of life has deteriorated beyond a certain point, whether it is because my body has failed me through age, I have a terminal illness, or my mind has gone, then I do not wish to receive medical treatment which will extend my life.
I am sharing my view because after more than 20 years' experience as a lawyer working in this area, I believe that end of life discussions are vital in order to respect people's wishes and help take away fear and anxiety when facing a crisis.
So if you are looking after an elderly relative what can you do?
- Talk to them about what they want to happen and then record their wishes in writing in a document often called a Living Will or an Advance Health Directive. Have that conversation early - when they are not ill or frail - so there can be no question of vulnerability. And although I am writing this for the sandwich generation thinking about their parents, this applies to you too. We never know what is going to happen to us.
- Make sure they have a Power of Attorney in place which allows someone else to make decisions for them if they've lost capacity. The Attorney has an obligation to only act in accordance with how the person would have done if they could themselves. How do they know that? See above - because the Attorney has spoken with them properly and it's all recorded in a Living Will.
- Make sure the doctors or carers know you are the Attorney. A properly drafted Power of Attorney will ensure you have the right to make decisions for the person and this can include the power to give or withhold consent to medical treatment.
Worry about your children
The financial implications of Covid-19 are huge and will affect all of us, regardless of age and stage of life. One of the key consequences of the 2009 financial crisis and the recession which followed was the loss of jobs and training opportunities for those who were starting their careers. There is likely to be a similar effect in the coming years.
That will mean that over the next couple of years there will be more and more people looking for their 1st jobs and, with the traditional back up option of a temporary cash earning role in hospitality being under threat as well, it seems likely that the younger generation will find the coming months particularly tough.
It is the baby boomers, in their 70s now, who are considered to be very well off in terms of being the recipients of final salary pension schemes and having been in the right place at the right time for a booming housing market of the 1980s and 1990s. Those in their 50s and 60s at the moment are unlikely to feel as confident about their financial position.
So the bank of Mum and Dad might not be feeling particularly flush at the moment but I encourage you nonetheless to review your financial position. When we carry out financial reviews for clients we are nearly always able to help them - whether it be making sure they are more financially fit for retirement, or recognising they have wealth which they will not need themselves and are able to pass on to the next generations.
Even if you can't afford to give away money, you might be able to structure financial support for your children in a way which you can retain assets for yourself but help them at the same time, e.g. a loan for a property purchase and the first step on to the housing ladder.
The musings of a lawyer during Covid-19
The last few months have forced people to change their lives. We have all been told what to do in a way which has been quite extraordinary for us. Unprecedented. It would seem to me that one of the biggest causes of anxiety over recent months is the feeling we are not in control.
I believe that lawyers working in the private client area can help people take more control in really important areas of life. Get in touch with us to see if we can make a difference for you and your family.
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