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Unpaid family caregivers face a double risk: financial impact and neglected planning

OCT. 17, 2019

Caregiving is a very personal topic for me. Just last year I was juggling the demands of my own family and career, while driving out of town to look after my father, who was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. You may have seen it in your own family or heard stories from your colleagues and friends. As people live longer and longer, they will need more assistance with household tasks (lawn care, groceries, laundry, etc.) — and loved ones are expected to pitch in.

While this informal caregiving may be provided willingly, it often becomes increasingly demanding and can ultimately have negative effects for the caregiver. In this way, such unpaid labor can prove to be quite costly — but the cost is borne by the caregiver, not the one receiving the care.

Nationwide recently conducted its 2019 Long-Term Care Consumer Survey,1 and the results are telling. Of those polled, 36% have been or currently are caregivers, while another 12% expect to become caregivers at some point. That means coping with caregiving may be a very real issue for nearly half (48%) of your clients.

What is an informal caregiver?

Usually a spouse or partner, family member, friend or neighbor, an informal caregiver is a person who helps a loved one with activities of daily living (ADLs) or other tasks. Some of these needs are instrumental activities of daily living, and many of these tasks take place in the recipient’s home.

Activities of Daily Living

  • Bathing
  • Dressing
  • Eating
  • Transferring (to bed or chair, etc.)
  • Toileting
  • Continence

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

  • Household chores
  • Meal preparation
  • Managing money/paying bills
  • Transportation
  • Shopping

Caregiving can be time-consuming and costly

Helping a family member or friend can be rewarding and draw people closer, and the tasks may be simple enough at the beginning. But as a loved one becomes more and more dependent, caregiving time can really add up. The caregivers we surveyed reported spending an average of 40 hours a week in this unpaid work. And, not surprisingly, this affected their paying jobs:

  • 17% worked fewer hours
  • 10% took a leave of absence from work
  • 7% needed to quit their job
  • 2% were passed over for a promotion

For me, I found it challenging to help my dad, who lived out of state, while also tending to my two daughters and managing a full plate at work.

Lost wages aren’t the only cost. There are often out-of-pocket expenses. In our survey, 62% of caregivers spent their own money to meet a need for their loved one, averaging $3,933 per year. It’s not hard to see how sustained caregiving may affect the caregiver’s own retirement plans.

Giving to others, neglecting oneself

Caregivers — the very people who know the possibilities — are lagging behind in planning for their own futures. The reason may be that they are too overwhelmed to plan that far ahead. Nearly half (48%) say there is added stress in balancing their lives. And almost a quarter (23%) have seen their own health decline due to caregiving. Yet only 14% of surveyed caregivers have discussed their own future long-term care costs with a financial advisor. This is where you can help. Launching the conversation with clients who are or may become caregivers can bring the topic out into the open. Together you can strategize to protect their retirement assets while also putting a plan in place for their own future long-term care.

There may be a special opportunity with your female clients. Women provide 63% of care, yet 7 in 10 report they are unaware of long-term care benefits. Women are more likely to understand the realities of caregiving, though, and they may be more receptive to the conversation than men.

While the topic is emotional and may be difficult to bring up, Nationwide has a number of resources to help you initiate a conversation with your clients about long-term care.

This conversation is essential. After actively caring for my dad, I am especially open to discussing what I want for my own long-term care plan.


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    This online survey was conducted March 25 to April 10, 2019. It included 1,462 adults in the United States who are age 50 or older and have $50,000 or more in investable assets. The survey included a further 516 adults age 50 or older who are caregivers. Caregivers did NOT have to have investable assets of $50,000 or more. Research participants were drawn from approved research panel partners. Results are weighted to the U.S. General Online Population of adults by age by gender, race/ethnicity, education, region, household income, marital status, size of household income, retirement status, assets and propensity to be online. Because the sample is based on those who were invited to participate in research panels (and not random), we cannot calculate estimates of theoretical sampling error.

    This information is general in nature and is not intended to be tax, legal, accounting or other professional advice. The information provided is based on current laws, which are subject to change at any time, and has not been endorsed by any government agency.

    NFM-18764AO (09/19)