Four out of every 10 Canadian baby boomers are paying an average of $498 a month to support their elderly parents, according to a national survey conducted by Investors Group Inc. And a third of those who still have living parents are devoting the equivalent of a workweek, about 42 hours, to other forms of support every month.

In addition, the Investors Group survey found that about a third of boomers who are helping their parents are parents themselves, and four in 10 of these “sandwich” boomers are finding their dual caregiving duties stressful.

Caregiving commitments are having a big impact on the financial plans of your boomer clients, and experts say that you should be aware of these issues and be prepared to help your clients deal with them.

For some boomers, eldercare costs and time away from work are putting a dent in their retirement funds. “We are definitely seeing its effect on boomers’ resources,” says Jane Olshewski, manager of financial life planning with Investors Group in Winnipeg, “as they approach retirement.”

“Even if an elderly parent is financially independent,” adds Nancy Conroy, a retirement planner with the Conroy Group Inc. in Ottawa, “money is often spent on airfare and accommodation to visit the parent, and on long-distance phone calls.”

Last year, Bank of Montreal commissioned a survey similar to the Investors Group poll and found that one in five boomers had to take time off work to help elderly relatives, and another one in five were paying at least some of their relatives’ eldercare expenses.

Eldercare is exacerbating an already difficult situation for many boomers, notes Wally Jaciuk, BMO’s investment sales manager in Edmonton: “The role of corporations in providing pension benefits has been crumbling over the past several years, and many companies are laying off employees. And many boomers are still looking after their children. All this is forcing [boomers] to re-examine their retirement dates and the lifestyles they envision in retirement.”

Olshewski adds another scenario: “Mom or Dad has had a fall, and suddenly the client is faced with care issues and expenses. The advisor will now need to determine whether the client’s goals have changed. Will the date of retirement need to be pushed back?”

Of course, your boomer clients should have been discussing care and end-of-life issues, such as wills, powers of attorney and health-care directives, with their parents well before crises occur. But boomers, says Clay Gillespie, a financial advisor and vice president with Rogers Group Financial Ltd. in Vancouver, often have trouble finding out whether their elderly parents will need financial support.

“Boomers’ parents are a very proud, very private generation,” Gillespie notes. “They don’t want to burden their children, and they’re reluctant to discuss their finances. Add that to the fact the two generations often don’t communicate very well. Getting parents to open up can be a problem.”

As a result, one generation may have erroneous expectations of the other. Conroy points to a boomer she met at a recent retirement seminar: “[A] single woman came from New Brunswick and her mother still lived there. The mother believed that when her daughter retired, she would move back and take care of her. The daughter didn’t know how to tell her mother that her life was now in Ottawa.”

These sorts of conversations, involving all the client’s siblings, need to begin early and build in stages to a point at which the parents can discuss their assets and income and how and where they’d like to live in their final years.

And you can guide your boomer clients in that direction. The first thing Royal Bank of Canada advi-sors ask new clients is whether they have dependents — and how many, says Lee Anne Davies, RBC’s head of retirement strategy in Toronto: “They’ll need to get their parents prepared for the reality that they may have to live apart if one of them needs special care. Can they afford two residences?”

Olshewski suggests you offer to talk to a client’s parents: “Some-times, a third party can make more inroads.”

However, Gillespie says, “The parents usually open up [only] when a crisis happens. They may fall or start forgetting things, and they become afraid.”

Clients from multicultural backgrounds may also find themselves in a culture clash with their parents, as the older generation may assume they will move in with their children when they can no longer live on their own, says Murray Morton, a financial advisor with Dundee Wealth Management Inc. in Toronto: “This may seem like an eldercare solution, but a family depending on two incomes may have to pay to bring in caregivers.”

@page_break@Sometimes, the solution is directing your clients to eldercare services in their area. “Let’s say a client is taking a day and a half out of a workweek to care for a parent,” says Jaciuk. “It may be cheaper to access some services and work the extra days.”

Davies suggests making sure clients with terminally ill relatives know about the federal government’s compassionate-care benefit. Those who have 600 or more hours of insurable employment will qualify for up to six weeks of benefits if they take time off work to care for or give support to a family member at significant risk of dying. The basic benefit rate is 55% of a client’s average insured earnings, up to a yearly maximum insurable amount of $42,300.

Once it’s determined that your client will to contribute financially to the support of an elderly relative, he or she will have to take a financial reality check. “Help create a revenue/expenses statement,” Jaciuk says. “If there’s a gap between the money the client has coming in and bills to be paid, see if the client can set aside more money by incurring fewer personal expenses — maybe taking one instead of two vacations a year.

“And clients may realize they’ll have to retire later,” he adds, “or take another job after ending a long-time career.”

A client whose parent is in a long-term-care facility also needs to factor in costs not covered under the facility’s fees, Davies says: “Prescription medicine may be needed that isn’t covered by provincial plans. There are also visits to the barber and the beauty salon. And transportation and parking for your client’s visits.”

Davies notes that your client should be adequately insured. Disability and critical-care insurance are important to protect the income stream if your client can’t work due to accident, illness or stress. And your client’s experience with the parents will probably make your client receptive to purchasing LTC insurance to cover his or her own future care.

If elder-support payments are coming out of investments, Ol-shewski points out, your clients may need to put more money into income-generating investments. IE