This article appears in Senior Care Guide 2018.

Caregiving doesn’t just require love, time, patience and work, it’s also a financial matter that can affect your retirement savings.

Being financially tested by caregiving expenses is a common issue that will only continue to impact more people as the U.S. population is growing older, said certified financial planner and enrolled agent Shomari Hearn, managing vice president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, office.

“The earlier you start to do research and plan ahead, the better off you’ll be,” he said. “Often families don’t explore their options until there’s a serious financial concern and they have already tapped into their retirement savings. By that time, it’s already become a drag on their financial security.”

Where to start

“Individuals are often thrown into caregiving responsibilities overnight. They often don’t know how to navigate the resources that are available,” said Lindsay Jurist-Rosner, chief executive officer of Wellthy, a support program for families caring for aging parents or people who are critically injured or disabled.

“A good place to look for additional resources is benefits that may be provided through the government, such as Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance,” said Tom Halloran, president of Voya Financial Advisors.

The process and requirements to receive these benefits can be long and difficult to navigate.

“In this situation, we recommend that everyone sits down with a financial advisor who can run through a checklist of the important questions you should be asking,” Halloran said. “For instance, do they have a long-term care policy? Are they eligible for veterans’ or other government benefits? Bringing in a third party does more than just help people get organized.

It can also help avoid a potential situation where a parent may feel like they’re being challenged or interrogated by their kids about their finances, which for many is a very private topic.”

Maximize your benefits

Caregiving expenses are a major reason for employees to make early withdrawals from 401(k) accounts, Jurist-Rosner said.

“If you are working, don’t forget to maximize the benefits you have through your employer, including life insurance, disability insurance and health savings accounts,” Halloran said. “And, make sure you’re taking advantage of your company’s 401(k) match if available to you. If your contribution to your 401(k) is less than your employer’s match rate, you’re leaving money on the table that could be used to help create the future you envision for your loved one.”

For those with a 401(k), insurance policy or other asset, it’s best to avoid naming a loved one with special needs as a beneficiary.

“Leaving your loved one with as little as $2,000 could disqualify them from receiving key government benefits,” Halloran said. “Working with a financial advisor to create a special-needs trust can help you name the trust and the beneficiary to receive the proceeds. Funds within the trust can then be used to create the quality of life your loved one deserves without interfering with government benefits.”

If you’re in a tight spot, check if your employer offers back-up care through Care.com or Bright Horizons, which is a way to help employees find interim solutions to emergency-care needs, Jurist-Rosner said.

Share the expense

Caregiving requires many kinds of sacrifices. Ideally expenses should be shared, said Anne Sansevero, founder and chief executive officer of HealthSense, an Aging Life Care-certified management consulting practice, and a care manager with a nurse practitioner master’s degree in gerontology.

“So if one family member is spending a lot of time caring, maybe the other family members can contribute if they have the resources to a financial pool of money so that hired care can be used for respite for the primary family carer,” Sansevero said. This is another instance where an outside professional can help offset family dynamics, she said.