For members of the "Sandwich Generation"—those currently in their 40s and 50s who are caring for children and their parents who are over 65-years old—estate planning may seem like a low priority. After all, when you're juggling multiple caregiving responsibilities daily, sitting down to draft a will is easy to put off.
But estate planning can be crucial to protecting your assets and providing for your children or other loved ones after you are gone. Here are some tips for Sandwich Generation members to begin their estate planning process.
Tip 1. Choose a Will or Trust
There are key differences between a will and a trust, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer for every situation.
A will disposes of your assets directly by naming beneficiaries. Once a will passes through probate, these assets may transfer to the beneficiaries through a court-supervised process.
A trust takes ownership of your assets during your lifetime and might distribute income to you throughout your life. A trust may distribute the assets to your beneficiaries after your death or might use them to provide a source of income for your heirs.
Trust assets belong to the trust and not to you. Certain types of trusts may be helpful when managing your income and assets if you later require long-term care under Medicaid. And for members of the Sandwich Generation, helping a parent establish a trust might allow them to qualify for Medicaid-based care without having to sell off their assets first. You may want to work with a financial professional if you’re considering this option.
Tip 2. Name Guardians
Your estate plan should include naming guardians for any minor or disabled children. If you pass away without naming guardians and your child’s other parent is unavailable, a court may decide who your children should live with and who should get your assets to pay for their care.
By having guardians identified in writing, you clarify your intentions about your child’s future after you are gone.
Tip 3. Plan for Long-Term Care
With the annual cost of long-term care increasing each year, it may be challenging to save as much as you may need to fund years of this care. Long-term care insurance might help cover these costs by providing additional coverage on top of a traditional health insurance policy or Medicare.
While most long-term care policies have coverage limits, it is worth investigating whether they may be a way for your parents to preserve assets or a way for you to improve your retirement readiness.
Tip 4. Give Gifts
If your parents or adult children are struggling financially, you may be able to help by making a tax-free cash gift to them. The annual gift tax exclusion allows you (and your spouse) to give up to $16,000 per person, tax-free.1 This means that you and your spouse may gift each of your children or parents $32,000 per year ($16,000 from each of you) without either side owing any tax on this amount.
If any gift recipients receive Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or other forms of aid with asset limits, giving gifts might negatively affect their benefits. Talk to a financial professional about other alternatives you may have to assist, such as possibly paying for medical expenses directly.