In Their Own Voice: Adjusting Financial Plans for SMI Caregivers

The Preparedness Project, an initiative founded by financial advisor Paul Peeler, has made it their mission to provide specialized financial planning support for Serious Mental Illness (SMI) caregivers and their families.

As part of that mission, Peeler has produced a variety of articles and other educational resources for caregivers and has recently started a series called “In Their Own Voice” where he interviews parents and caregivers of an adult child with a mental illness. Through these interviews, he helps to share their journey and identify themes and lessons that can help other families in similar situations.

Tim and Debbie live in suburban Atlanta. Their son, Adam, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia while in college.

The Preparedness Project recently spoke with Tim and Debbie about how this event has impacted them from a professional and financial standpoint.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity. Pseudonyms have been used to maintain Adam’s privacy.


Paul: Thanks so much for joining me. So, what happened with Adam?

Debbie: We received a call from our son one day telling us that he was hearing voices, and they were telling him to drive into oncoming traffic and kill people. We got him home as soon as possible. We had a longtime family friend who was an adolescent psychology professional, and at his recommendation we got him into treatment very quickly.

Tim: This started the long cycles of trying to find a treatment that would be effective for his symptoms. It was a couple of years of trying new drugs combined with different therapies before we were able to get him stabilized.

Paul: What impact this event have on you professionally?

Debbie: I was always a stay-at-home mom, so I just swung into crisis mode.

Tim: I own my own business and have a great staff, so I was lucky to have a lot of flexibility while Adam was in crisis. On the flip side, I handle all the new business development, so that definitely suffered for a few years.

Paul: When did it dawn on you that this event might have a significant impact on you financially?

Tim: Early on. When this occurred, both of our children were in college, so we were on final countdown before becoming “true” empty nesters. It occurred to me pretty quickly that there was a very real possibility that Adam would always be financially dependent on us.

Debbie: Adam is in recovery and doing well right now, but at the time we had no way of knowing the future. And everything you assumed about the future for your child just kind of evaporates. Will he ever be able to live independently? Will he ever be able to work? Will he need us for the rest of his life?

Paul: What issues did you grapple with from a planning perspective?

Debbie: The medication management alone is overwhelming, not to mention managing the multiple doctors and specialists. It was hard for me, and I am pretty good at this kind of stuff. If something happens to us, how does he handle that? Who helps him out? Do we just dump that on his sister? What does that conversation even look like?

Tim: We committed early on to long-term financial support, if necessary. To be honest, absorbing those expenses, in addition to college costs, was rough. Adam tried to continue with school but had to withdraw three consecutive semesters. And the school doesn’t refund that tuition and you’ve signed a housing contract, so those expenses just don’t go away. So, we had to suspend saving for our retirement for a couple of years.

Paul: Did stopping savings for a couple of years put you behind?

Tim: Yeah, but we were automatically behind once Adam got sick. When you are planning on one level of expense during retirement, and then overnight that increases by potentially tens of thousands of dollars per year, we had a gap to fill.

Paul: How are you managing that?

Tim: It’s a work in progress. Right now, it’s a combo of working longer and saving more.

Another consideration was making sure we had enough money available at our deaths to take care of him if necessary. Our planner pointed that out. We are still working on that, frankly. I own my own business, and that is a large amount of our net worth. On paper it looks fine, but can we reasonably rely on the future sale of the business to create the cash we are counting on? There are so many things that could happen between now and then.

Paul: What is going on with Adam now?

Debbie: He has been stable for several years now. He is employed full-time and married to a supportive and understanding young woman. We are very grateful.

Paul: Do you provide financial support even with him being employed and married?

Tim: We pledged to them to cover his medical expenses. We didn’t want them to be in a situation where they had to choose substandard insurance or skip a doctor’s appointment or medication because of cost.

Paul: Are you still planning on maybe needing to provide financial support later, even though he is stable right now?

Tim: We have that possibility built into our financial plan, yes. Anything else, Debbie?

Debbie: Get long-term care insurance.

Paul: For your child?

Debbie: No, for us. You don’t want to risk burning through the money that would have otherwise gone to your kid’s care when you aren’t around anymore.

Tim: The sooner you face the financial issues, the greater your opportunity to deal with them. Get started now.

Paul: Thank you both for sharing with me.


Woven into Tim and Debbie’s comments are recurring themes in our conversations with caregivers.

They spoke of increased expenses and having to plan for those well into the future. They also spoke to the theme of adjusting their financial plan. They reflected on the need to create and conserve assets to be available for care after they are gone. This speaks to the theme of multi-generational planning.

They are also concerned about who provides care after their death, which reflects the theme of estate and legacy planning.

If you are finding yourself grappling with similar issues, don’t go it alone. Reach out to The Preparedness Project today for additional support.

This is a hypothetical situation based on real life examples. Names and circumstances have been changed. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investments or strategies may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing.