Blended Families Can Prove Challenging to Caregivers

Divorce seldom fails to up the complexity quotient when you add stepparents into the caregiving and estate planning equations, explains Elder law attorney Gene L. Osofsky of the law firm Osofsky & Osofsky.

Attorney Diane Fener, based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, has family duties when she travels to New England to visit her parents. Her mother lives in the dementia unit of an assisted living facility in Rhode Island. She then meets with her father at his apartment about a half-hour drive away in Massachusetts. Her father’s second wife, Ms. Fener’s stepmother, lives nearby in a nursing home and she too, has dementia. She last visits her stepfather – the man who was her mother’s second husband for more than two decades.

“I’m sure that Ms. Fener doesn’t get to spend as much time as she might like with each of her parents,” says attorney Gene L. Osofsky of the law firm Osofsky & Osofsky, “but her situation is typical of many blended families today.”

During the 1970s, there was a spike in U.S. divorce rates. In the aftermath of that spike, states liberalized their divorce laws and working women became less inclined to remain in unsatisfying marriages, the cultural stigma of divorced lessened, and grown children of these broken marriages are dealing with the unintended consequences. “A new layer of complexity has been added to an already complex and emotional situation, especially for caregivers,” Osofsky explains.

In fact, the added stresses of divorce, family upheaval, and tighter finances can be so detrimental to your health that the effects can linger for years into the future. Because Osofsky & Osofsky is frequently engaged to help divorced or remarrying couples update their estate plans to protect their newly blended families, Ms. Fener’s plight struck an empathetic chord with Osofsky. “Divorce can have poignant and practical effects 20 or 30 years down the road,” he explains, “not just on the couple but also on their grown children now acting as caregivers.”

Adult children of aging parents can find themselves caring, not only for mom and dad, but also for stepmom, stepdad, and sometimes even extra sets of stepparents from an additional or current marriage. “Dividing time and often finances between so many parents with new and special needs can quickly take its toll,” Osofsky concludes.

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