Ask any elder care lawyer or estate planning attorney and odds are, he will tell you he has at least a few clients who he’s watched plan for their retirements over the years and who are now doing the unexpected: raising their grandchildren. Across the United States, nearly 8 million children are living in homes where relatives are their caretakers; nearly 6 million of those homes have grandparents as the caretakers. AARP calls these families “grandfamilies.” They have full and sole responsibility for everything associated with these children: the financial aspects, their medical help, insurance, helping with homework – all of it – they are parenting grandkids.
In most of these homes, the parent or parents of these children are not under the same roof. The reasons are many. Some are single parents in the military, others have struggled financially since the recession and found themselves homeless (although in these instances, it’s not clear why they’re not in the same home as their parents and children) and others, sadly, have become part of the increasing numbers associated with drug abuse. Regardless of the reasons, though, it’s changed the way millions look at their retirement and twilight years.
It’s also presented unique problems. Many of our clients report feeling as though there’s no place for them to turn for support or resources. Their grandchildren are sometimes isolated because of that as well. There are few programs, even fewer support services and laws simply haven’t been written for these unique, though definite, new lifestyles.
Suddenly, the federally recognized Grandparents Day doesn’t seem like it’s quite enough for many of these families – especially if the grandparents are more parents than they are the folks who spoil the little ones and send them back to mom and dad. There’s a real absence in addressing this growing reality and AAPA says the time is long overdue for the spotlight, otherwise, the foundational risk is at jeopardy: if the grandparents are unable to care for the grandchildren due to illness or lack of finances, then both generations lose out. Even worse, many grandparents were already on very tight budgets and surviving on their retirement benefits, Medicaid and/or Social Security; being thrust into the role of parenting grandkids is sometimes what puts them over the edge.
To get a better idea of just how widespread this is, consider these facts from the U.S. Census Bureau:
580,000: The number of grandparents responsible for grandchildren under the age of 18 and whose income was below the poverty level in the past 12 months. Another 2.2 million are just at the cutoff for poverty.
$45,000 The median income for families with grandparent householders (and at least one parent, either who lived full time or part time with them) responsible for grandchildren under 18. For families where a parent of the grandchildren was not present, the median income was $33,000.
1.7 million: Number of grandparents responsible for grandchildren and who were also in the labor force.
670,000: The number of grandparents who had a disability and were solely responsible for their grandchildren.
10%: Percentage of children in the U.S. living with a grandparent in 2010, totaling nearly 8 million.
As estate planning lawyers, this is clearly a new defining factor in the otherwise traditional American family. It presents its own unique problems and as a result, it means new resources and solutions must be found. It changes everything about the way Americans see retirement and estate planning. While the answers might not be clear just yet, with commitment and a focus on family, the solutions are out there.