x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The View From Here: 'Sandwiched' by financial support responsibilities

Expatriates find themselves sandwiched between supporting their ageing parents and raising their children.

If your parents are anything like mine, there are times when you appreciate having an ocean between you and them. But for expatriates, members of the "sandwich generation", taking care of elderly parents while supporting themselves and their own children is a burden they can't avoid.

Of course, many Emiratis, for whom caring for parents into old age is a given, would shake their heads in wonder at this. In the Middle East, Africa, as well as Asia, the concept of sending parents to a home, or leaving them to fend for themselves is just plain weird.

In any case, the circle is rapidly turning and whether we are ready or not, many of us will end up having to provide some form of assistance to an ageing family, even as we are still tying the shoelaces of the upcoming generation. A study by the SunAmerica Financial Group and Age Wave, a research organisation that studies the effects of ageing on society, shows that almost half of Americans over 55 expect to support both their ageing parents and their children.

In the UK, about 250,000 couples are in the same position, according to The Guardian newspaper. And a large share of Pakistan's nearly US$11 billion (Dh40.4bn) in remittances is spent on caring for family back home.

According to the UN, the fastest-growing group in the world is the "oldest old" - those who have lived past the age of 80. Many of these people are expected to outlive their savings. At the same time, their children will also likely be part of another rapidly growing demographic - people who opt to have children later in life.

I'd go so far as to predict that we are not far away from the time when parental care will soon be right up there with children's education as a make-or-break issue when deciding on whether to move abroad for work. The cost of schooling is already a pivotal issue for families faced with relocation, a cost some employers try avoid. I can't think of many countries on the traditional expat work list that will issue residence visas to elderly dependants.

And it's no secret that offshore companies will, if at all possible, hire young, single workers if they can, rather than carry the burden of an employee with a spouse and children in tow. Only where they have no choice do they reluctantly provide family assistance. So it goes without saying that parental assistance of any kind is off the table.

In time, they may have no choice, as more professionals find themselves responsible for two generations. Issues such as relocation allowances that include elderly dependants, including air fares and even nursing care assistance will eventually become part of the package for people with the more sought-after skills.

In the meantime, though, it's best to make what preparations you can to manage the situation yourself.

Speak to your parents and ask about estate planning. Do they have an attorney? Where do they keep all the relevant documents? Make sure you have the contact details of important people, such as a neighbour, their physician and lawyer.

If any of these contact details change, your parents should let you know. This is why it's important to discuss these issues with them, particularly if you are going to be abroad for some time. Next, have a contact person to call in time of crisis. It could be a friend of the family or a sibling living in your home country.

There will be few situations more distressing than having to manage a crisis while still trying to book a flight out and wrestling your luggage through the Etihad terminal.

Finally, you may also need to get a realistic picture of your parents' financial health. Not easy to do. My father, who regards parting with an extra cent as a personal failure, will not disclose his finances if his life depends on it. Luckily, I have mum as an inside spy to provide me with the necessary intelligence.

Ultimately, if your parents run into financial difficulty, you may have to step in and help out. To do so effectively, you need to be prepared.


Gavin du Venage is a business writer and entrepreneur based in South Africa.