When Mary Anne Ehlert launched her career in financial planning in 1989, she was targeting an untapped niche: clients caring for a family member with special needs. She understood their situation through her personal experience: Ehlert’s sister, Marcia, had cerebral palsy.
Financial planning for clients dealing with parents with special needs requires both technical expertise and empathy for the unique challenges they face. Identifying with their difficulties and providing emotional support is part of the job.
Caregivers struggle with anger, exhaustion and despair. Supervising the care of a loved one with a physical disability, developmental disability or mental illness requires vast reserves of patience and resilience.
“You hear it a lot from caregivers, ‘I can’t do another minute like this,'” said Ehlert, a certified financial planner in Lincolnshire, Illinois. “You think you’re supposed to be strong. You can’t be weak. You can’t let anyone know that.
She remembers the day when she couldn’t take it anymore. As her family’s care needs accelerated, Ehlert felt overwhelmed. She fled to her garage and sat in her car. After about 15 minutes of sobbing, she had an epiphany.
“I’m a mess,” she realized. “I have to take care of myself or I can’t keep doing this.”
Ehlert took steps to cope more effectively, starting with a new willingness to seek help. “I put together a dream team,” she recalls, “having each person do this piece.”
Examples included enlisting the appropriate medical personnel, someone to handle legal matters, and a lawyer to handle the provision of care. Given her financial planning skills, she became “the money person”. His strategy worked well, and Ehlert and his aging parents were relieved of some of the burden.
Marcia died in 1995 at the age of 40. But Ehlert continues to apply the skills she learned: her stepson struggles with mental health issues, and she cared for his mother (dementia) and father (blind for the past eight years of his life due to a macular disease). degeneration).
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More than half of Ehlert’s financial planning clients have a loved one with special needs. She advises them to build a support network. “You need to have a reference person who recognizes that you are in need,” she tells them. A friend available on short notice to lend a hand or just take you out to lunch can be a godsend.
Ehlert saw his parents devote themselves fully to Marcia’s care — and how it was becoming too much. “I saw them worrying,” she said. “They didn’t take care of themselves financially or emotionally. They never wanted to go anywhere and take a trip. If you are, you think no one else can do it. No one can be you.
Once you’ve assembled a support team and defined roles, write everything down. This way you keep track of who is doing what. Include contact information for each person and care tips that apply to each role.
“Write a playbook and keep updating it,” Ehlert said. “List the team. But also make a list of what each team member needs to know” so that new assistants have clear instructions if you are not there.
Separated from her practice, Ehlert founded Protected tomorrows, an information and resource center for people caring for people with special needs. It offers workshops, webinars and educational tutorials.
“You feel sorry for yourself and get it out of your system,” Ehlert said. “Then you come back. You develop courage.”
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