Caregiving for my loved ones has been the most important role of my life and one I will never regret. Over more than a decade, I cared for my wonderful family — both of my parents, Dad's service dog and my sister. While I fully chose to do this and it brought me much joy, it did not come without costs and sacrifices. In fact, like millions of other family caregivers, I did what I felt was the right thing by my family, and it led me to financial devastation.
Growing caregiving expenses
Mom had a stroke when she was just 63, and 20 years later, Dad developed Alzheimer's disease. My parents had done retirement and estate planning; they thought they were prepared. They had a solid $5,000-per-month income with Dad's pension and Social Security for both of them. But by the time I got involved in their finances, when they were in their early 80s, they had a considerable mortgage on their house and had depleted most of their savings and investments. When Dad stopped driving, they and Dad's service dog moved to a nearby continuing-care retirement community in independent living. Fees were approximately $4,000 a month and included meals, but personal-care services, such as help with bathing, medication reminders and an escort to dinner or activities, were extra. Their long-term care insurance helped, and I started picking up the expenses their budget wouldn't cover.
I quit my full-time job and became a consultant, in order to have flexibility while caregiving. But I lost benefits and had higher expenses. I moved from Virginia to their house in Arizona so I could manage their care and started covering their mortgage payments while still renting an office/lodging in Virginia, where I traveled to each month for work. My savings were depleted fairly quickly.
Rise in care needs
Three years later, both of my parents needed 24-hour care and moved back into the house with me. I sold their farm in another state to lower their expenses. I had to work during the day, and I also traveled frequently for my job, so I hired live-in caregivers, and I took care of my parents in the evenings and on weekends. I could no longer work from home with both parents, caregivers and therapists coming in and out, so I rented an office.
Devastatingly, Mom suddenly passed on a year later, at age 87. I had also had a caregiving role with my oldest sister, who passed on a year after my Mom, at age 62, compounding our deep grief. As executor of her estate, I wound up spending thousands of unreimbursed dollars.