When David Winstanley’s mother Mary Elizabeth was guardianized in 2014 by the Lancaster County Orphans Court in Pennsylvania, he never dreamed it would cost more than $250,000 in legal fees to restore her capacity, civil liberties and constitutional rights.
The 71-year-old devoted son desperately withdrew money from his Roth IRA and 401(k) account. He also refinanced his Annapolis, Maryland, home valued at $220,000 in order to free up $150,000 in cash to pay lawyers.
Despite all of the flight attendant’s efforts to free his mother, she died on July 5, 2019, just three weeks shy of her 98th birthday as a ward of the State of Pennsylvania.
“This is one of those tragic situations in which an older adult is unnecessarily put under guardianship as though David Winstanley’s mother had no one around who cared about her,” said Sara Zeff Geber, author of “Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers.”
Winstanley is now left to pick up the financial pieces for his own golden years.
“I had hoped to retire next year but I plan to work another 10 years to make up for the financial losses,” Winstanley told Newsmax Finance.
Winstanley is among the 92% of caregivers in the United States serving in a financial capacity for loved ones, according to a Bank of America report, and whose expenses and responsibilities collectively add up to a whopping $190 billion per year.
“Supporting those caring for our aging population has become one of the most pressing financial issues of our lifetime,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Greater longevity is going to have a profound impact on the caregiving landscape.”
Rebuilding savings after a caregiving episode depends on age and stage in life, according to experts.
Below are a few guidelines based on generation:
Baby Boomers Born 1946-1963 (56-72 years old)
For boomers like Winstanley, recovering savings can be more difficult because boomers tend to be caring for World War II generation parents while they are on the brink of retirement.
“David Winstanley is taking the only path open to him at this point to recover from a financial hit, which is working longer but there may be more suitable part-time work or a different, less physically-taxing job,” said Gerber.
In addition to working longer than planned, consider making catch-up contributions to employer retirement plans, says Cyndi Hutchins, director of financial gerontology with Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Employees ages 50 and older can make 401(k) catch-up contributions of up to $6,000, for a maximum possible 401(k) contribution of $25,000 in 2019. Those ages 50 and up can also deposit an extra $1,000 in an IRA, or $7,000 in total for 2019.
Generation X Born 1964-1980 (38-55 years old)
Generation X are generally considered to be in their pre-retirement years and could accumulate savings quickly by contributing to a Health Savings Account (HSA) if they are enrolled in a high deductible health plan.
According to Investopedia, contributions to HSAs generally aren't subject to federal income tax so the earnings in the account grow tax-free. Unspent money in an HSA rolls over at the end of the year and is available for spending down the road.
Millennials Born 1981-1996 (22-37 years old)
Millennials who are drained financially from caregiving responsibilities may have incurred unsecured debt and neglected their own bill paying.
If so, it’s time to prioritize paying off credit card debt by getting back on track with making minimum payments on credit cards or more, if possible.
Juliette Fairley is an author, lecturer and TV host based in New York.
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