The story is sad on many levels. Seventy-three old Shirley Anderson has lupus, has never worked and has $28,000 in credit card debt. She had relied on support payments from her ex-husband until he died nearly a decade ago. At that point, she reached out to her three estranged adult children for financial help. One of her sons claims he hasn't had a relationship with his mother since she moved away and left him to fend for himself when he was a mere 15 years old. The answer came back: sorry lady, not gonna happen. Ms. Anderson went to court and using pro-bono legal services, has attempted to sue her kids for support payments.
Under B.C. filial responsibility laws, adult children have a duty to support parents who become dependent due to financial issues, illness or age. Every province has similar laws, with the exception of Alberta, which repealed its filial duty law in 2005. These laws were created during the Depression era, before Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security were created. Many legal analysts say the laws are now antiquated and it's a matter of time before they are abolished in all provinces.
Yet the bigger question remains: how do people - especially mothers - protect themselves from ending up in desperate financial straits during their old age? The following are three warning signs that your future may be at risk unless you take control of it now.
Warning sign #1: "He's going to be a soccer player!"
Many parents (you know who you are) are all-too willing to go into debt to support the burgeoning career of their young prodigy - certain that once Junior hits the big time, their own financial future will be secured. If Junior proves to be uniquely skilled at soccer or cello, it is wonderful to support his or her efforts at a level within your means, but never at the risk of your own savings plans. Scholarships and bursaries are designed to support exceptionally talented yet underfunded children - use them.
Warning sign #2: The RESP is bigger than the RRSP
Though it may be contrary to your maternal nature, saving for yourself has to come first - consider it an essential monthly expense. Even if all you can spare is $50 or $100 a month, keep building your RRSP and let compound interest work its magic. Saving for your child's education is ultimately a luxury - do it only when you can afford it. When your kid reaches university age, he or she will have options: student loans, living at home and going to a nearby college, and student summer jobs. You, on the other hand, will eventually run out of options for income, so invest in yourself now.
Warning sign #3: You don't have enough insurance
Financial security is about knowing you have a safety net in the event things go very wrong. Single parents have the slimmest of margins and if you lose your ability to work, you could lose your ability to provide for yourself and your children. Make sure you have disability and critical illness insurance in place. If you have a partner, make sure he has a life insurance policy large enough to cover the costs his income provides for, as well as any household debts.
Take care of yourself and the rest will follow
If you sense there is a theme to these warnings, you are right: if you want to provide stability and a strong future for your children, you must be stable and strong in your own right. No matter what you try to teach them, children learn from example. A mother who demonstrates self-sufficiency and financial responsibility will pass along the best lessons of all to her kids (along with the comfort of knowing you won't be suing them - thank goodness!).