At a glance

  • Start the conversation with your parents when everyone’s ready.
  • Evaluate your care options.
  • Prepare the proper paperwork.

Members of Generation X have been called the “Sandwich Generation”—not because they love lunch, but because they may have to care for their children and aging parents at the same time.

If this describes you, how can you help your parents as they get older? Start with a conversation.

Start when everyone’s ready

The best time to approach your parents and discuss how you can help is when everyone’s in the right frame of mind to have that conversation.

Kahlilah Dowe
Kahlilah Dowe

“Ideally, the conversation should happen when your parents have all their faculties and are able to make clear, well-thought-out decisions,” said Kahlilah Dowe, a senior wealth planner in Vanguard Personal Advisor Services®. “At the very least, you should talk if and when you see ‘red flags’ such as medical issues or lapses in judgment.”

Don’t forget to ask about your parents’ wishes—and really listen. You may find that they’re relieved to know you’re considering their wants above all else.

“Remember, your parents may have some concerns they need to express as well. You may not walk away with all of your questions answered. Instead, you may need to have several short conversations on this topic,” said Dowe.

If you’re unsure how to bring up the topic with your parents, you could always soften the approach by saying, “Mom and Dad, we just finished our will. Have you done yours?”

Evaluate care options

Check in with your parents to see if they know what type of care they’d like, should they need it. And because there are so many options, you and your parents may have to do some homework.

“There are a wide range of options depending on the level of care needed,” said Dowe. “People today can choose retirement communities that provide housing along with meals, transportation, housekeeping, and social activities. Then, just in case, there are assisted-living facilities with varying levels of care and support. And, finally, for the highest level of care, you can have in-home care and help for your parents’ daily activities or you can explore skilled, full-time-care nursing homes.”

Bonus tip
Go to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website to find resources in your community.

Set up an estate plan

Estate plans aren’t just for the wealthy. If your parents own any assets, they have an estate. And a proper estate plan can save you some trouble down the road.

“An estate plan spells out how the decedent intended to distribute assets and who will manage financial affairs, and it can protect beneficiaries. It may also save estate settlement costs,” Dowe said.

Prepare the paperwork

You’ll also want to make sure your parents have all their important financial documents in order—and that you know where they’re located. Make sure you can access their:

  • Wills and living wills.
  • Trusts, if applicable.
  • Durable power of attorney forms.
  • Health care directives.
  • Financial statements.
  • Long-term-care insurance policies, if applicable.

“If your parents need any of these documents to complete their estate plan, encourage them to visit a local estate attorney specializing in family law,” Dowe said. “Also, if you sign up for Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, our advisors can help you understand what should be included in the estate plan and if that plan needs updating.”

Bonus tip
If your parents are open to the idea, consider having yourself named as a joint owner on their bank accounts. That way, if the need arises, you can easily pay bills on their behalf.

Be smart about helping

Of course you want to help your parents. But remember, sometimes helping too much can be almost as bad as not helping at all.

Keep these two tips in mind:

  • Respect your parents’ financial boundaries. Unless your parents are medically impaired, they’re adults capable of managing their financial lives. So you may have to back off from urging them to make an investing move, even if you think it’s the right thing to do. This can sometimes be tough to do, especially when you’re used to acting for yourself and your children.
  • Balance your parents’ financial needs with your own. If your parents are under financial constraints, you may be tempted to tap into your retirement savings to help them. That’s an admirable instinct, but one with potential long-term financial consequences for you and your children. Consider any such move carefully before you act.

Reevaluate over time

If you know what your parents’ wishes are, and their financial house is in order, you’re most of the way there. Just be sure to periodically check in to see if anything’s changed.

And make sure you have all your ducks in a row, so you won’t have to wait for your kids to initiate the conversation.


All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

Consider consulting a tax advisor concerning your individual situation.

Advice services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc., a registered investment advisor, or by Vanguard National Trust Company, a federally chartered, limited-purpose trust company.