Caring for the Caregivers: Too Often, It's a Do-It-Yourself Job

Feb 23, 2010, 10:00 ET from MassMutual Financial Group

SPRINGFIELD, Mass., Feb. 23 /PRNewswire/ -- Who will care for the caregivers?

That's the question a growing number of Americans who are caring for family members are asking themselves. Faced with the need to provide daily care, often to family members with special needs or disabilities, caregivers tend to overlook their own short- and long-term personal and financial needs, putting at risk their own health and security.  

The ranks of caregivers for younger adults, older adults, and children with special needs are growing, now topping more than 65 million people, or about 29 percent of the U.S. adult population*. The growth is fueled in part by an increasing prevalence of such conditions as autism in children and Alzheimer's disease in adults, longer lifespan, and improved medical therapies that are making it possible for people with special needs and disabilities to remain in their homes.

"Caring for a loved one with special needs or disabilities can be emotionally, physically and financially draining, and the way many people handle those demands is to put all their energy and resources into caring for their loved one at the expense of caring for themselves," said Bill Dougherty, assistant vice president of the SpecialCare(SM) program at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual), a coordinated program that provides access to information, specialists and financial products and services to help improve the quality of life for people with special needs and their caregivers.

While many advocacy groups offer advice to caregivers on how to deal with the physical and emotional demands they face, financial preparation often gets overlooked. "Faced with everyday demands, it can seem overwhelming to think about long-term issues such as financial preparedness, protecting income, and saving for retirement, but with the right help, it's possible to do it," said Dougherty.

Here are 10 steps caregivers can take to make sure they take care of themselves:

  1. Find a knowledgeable financial professional who can help you understand the process and design a roadmap to help you reach your goals. It's best to work with a financial professional, such as a Special Care Planner**, who has been trained in the area of special needs planning, so that the strategy you develop benefits you, the loved one for whom you are caring, and other family members.
  2. Assemble a team. Your financial and life plans could be closely tied to those of your loved one with special needs. As a result, you will need to ensure that all of your planning is coordinated with the planning being done for your loved one. You'll need access to an attorney, accountant, potentially a banker, and others, all of whom should have expertise in the area of special needs planning. Your Special Care Planner or other financial professional can help assemble a team of experts for you.
  3. Set your goals. Only by deliberately thinking about what you're trying to achieve will you be able to take steps to achieve it. Is your long-range goal to provide for yourself in retirement? To leave an inheritance for your loved ones? To guard against the possible negative impact of your own long-term illness or disability? Taking time to think about your own future is critical.
  4. Evaluate what you already have. Re-examine your existing plans, protection and savings, as well as any benefits you might receive through the workplace. Double-check to ensure that they are current, and that the beneficiaries are correct.
  5. Identify your gaps. For example, do you have enough life insurance to achieve your goals? Do you have sufficient disability income insurance protection to protect you in the event you become too ill or disabled to work? What about your long-term care needs?  Are you setting aside enough to reach your retirement income goals? Have you thought about who else can provide the care that you do to your loved one with special needs -- who will take your place when you are gone?
  6. Pick the right solutions for your needs. Once your goals and gaps are identified, it's now possible to choose the right solutions for your needs. A financial services professional can help you determine the product characteristics that are right for you. It's always important to choose a financially strong financial services company with a long track record of being there when its clients need it.
  7. Avoid conflicts. Make sure that the plan you develop for yourself does not conflict with the plan needed by your loved one with special needs. For example, naming your loved one with special needs in your will can be a mistake, because an inheritance of as little as $2,000 can make your loved one ineligible for governmental programs. Ask a specialist, such as a Special Care Planner, about other strategies, such as those involving Supplemental Special Needs Trusts.  
  8. Make your plans known. Discuss your plan with other family members, as well as the plan of your loved one with special needs. Often generous and well-meaning family members can make gifts or leave inheritances to a loved one with special needs that can unintentionally wreak financial havoc by making the loved one ineligible for governmental programs. That, in turn, can have a significant financial impact on the caregiver. It is best to communicate your plans clearly and to educate other family members about the intricacies of special needs planning.
  9. Take care of your physical and emotional well-being. Family caregivers frequently feel the strains of stress and often cite depression as an ongoing challenge. As a caregiver, you should seek out frequent respite breaks; even a short break can help rejuvenate you. Involve other family members and friends in the care of your loved one, especially of they may be named as a future guardian.
  10. Reach out for support. There are numerous governmental programs and advocacy groups that provide information, programs, and assistance to caregivers. A good first step is to visit the federal government's Caregivers' Resources page at

For more about life-care planning that involves family members or loved ones with disabilities or special needs, visit

* Caregiving in the U.S. 2009, National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP.

** The Special Care Planner receives advanced training and information in estate and tax planning concepts, special needs trusts, government programs, and the emotional dynamics of working with people with disabilities and other special needs and their families. The certificate program is offered by The American College in Bryn Mawr, PA, exclusively for MassMutual financial professionals.

About MassMutual

Founded in 1851, MassMutual is a leading mutual life insurance company that is run for the benefit of its members and participating policyholders. The company has a long history of financial strength and strong performance, and although dividends are not guaranteed, MassMutual has paid dividends to eligible participating policyholders every year since the 1860s. With whole life insurance as its foundation, MassMutual provides products to help meet the financial needs of clients, such as life insurance, disability income insurance, long term care insurance, retirement/401(k) plan services, and annuities. In addition, the company's strong and growing network of financial professionals helps clients make good financial decisions for the long-term.

MassMutual Financial Group is a marketing name for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) and its affiliated companies and sales representatives. MassMutual is headquartered in Springfield, Massachusetts and its major affiliates include: Babson Capital Management LLC; Baring Asset Management Limited; Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers LLC; The First Mercantile Trust Company; MassMutual International LLC; MML Investors Services, Inc., member FINRA and SIPC; OppenheimerFunds, Inc.; and The MassMutual Trust Company, FSB.


Karen Lavariere-Sanchez

Cell: 413.427.4245

SOURCE MassMutual Financial Group