So Your Parent Wants to Move In With You -- Can You Afford It?

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Recently I heard from Sarah, an old friend, about a hard situation she's in that I'm sure many Caring.com readers can relate to. Sarah's mother-in-law moved in with her and her family more than a year ago, and since then Sarah's had a really hard time dealing with her husband's siblings, who aren't helping out as much as they promised.

But what Sarah's finding even more stressful is that the expense -- both in direct costs and in time lost from work -- of having an elderly person join the household is much greater than she expected. And what really galls her? No one else in the family seems motivated to chip in. "This summer it really got to me," Sarah told me. "We were stuck here in the Midwest heat, working ourselves to the bone keeping up with our jobs and caring for mom, while my husband's sister's family went to the Bahamas, and his brother and his wife spent weeks at their lake cabin. They didn't invite their mom to join them, and it never occurred to them that we could use a vacation too."

The problem is, it's much harder to get situations like this straightened out after the fact, after expectations have gelled and things have settled into a routine. So here are some suggestions culled from elder planning experts for how to set up a working financial arrangement with siblings before your parent or other family member makes the move.

Sharing the Financial Load With Siblings

1. Create a "caregiving budget." Make a list of estimated expenses and determine how much the parent, the caregiver, and/or siblings will contribute. This budget should take into account the full cost of living for the family; not just food and transportation, but mortgage or rent, homeowners' insurance, utilities, etc. Many people make the mistake of thinking, well, I'm already paying this mortgage amount, so I shouldn't charge my parent for a share -- no. Even if your home is big enough that you don't have to make any changes to accommodate your family member, he or she should still share those basic expenses, unless there's really no money available. If not, resentments will arise down the line. Again, this may need to be made clear to siblings.

2. Figure out how much your parent can contribute. Sometimes, aging parents will have sufficient resources (possibly following the sale of their home) to pay the full cost of their care in your home. For example, if Sarah's mother-in-law sold a home before moving in with Sarah and her husband, that money could be used to contribute to Sarah's household. Sibling alert: This is an issue that must be discussed openly ahead of time. In many families, there's an unstated expectation from adult children that they will inherit the funds from the family home. I've heard more stories than you can believe of families where the family home is sold, and the proceeds set aside for future inheritance, while one sibling struggles to support and care for the now non-independent parent. That's not how it should work, experts say. All the siblings need to discuss and agree that the proceeds from the home are to be used for the parent's care during his or her lifetime. And if that care is in one sibling's home, the funds will last much longer than they would if they were used to pay for assisted living.

3. Calculate a fair contribution for the parent to make to household expenses. This is tricky, of course, and has to take into account both what resources the parent has, and what the cost of living is for that particular household. But here's a ballpark way to look at it: If an aging family member becomes part of what's now a five-person household, and the total monthly expenses for that household are $2,500, the new resident might contribute one-fifth, or $500.

4. Call on siblings to contribute. If an aging family member doesn't have resources to pay for his or her care, the siblings together should come up with a payment plan. Really -- it's only fair. If you figure it costs you $1000 a month to have your parent in your home, and there are three additional siblings, you could ask each for $250. Alternatively, your siblings might very reasonably decide that your time in caring for the parent is your contribution, and divide the $1000 three ways.

5. Keep track of additional costs and share those too. Food, housing, and utilities are only the start, and not realizing this ahead of time is one of the biggest stressors for family caregivers, as the costs begin to mount. If you're the one taking Dad to the doctor and picking up his medications, you'll be writing checks for co-pays and prescriptions. There will be special purchases to make and supplies, such as adult diapers. You may have to make changes to your home, such as putting bars in the bathroom or widening a door for a wheelchair. There may be transportation costs, or fees for services. Since you're Johnny-on-the-spot, these expenses will end up coming out of your pocket. Keep a running tab of caregiving expenses and send a regular tally to other family members, with their share indicated. One way to simplify the record keeping? Have a separate credit card and use the monthly bill as your record. If other siblings can't or won't pay their fair share on a monthly basis, you'll want to keep even more careful records, as you may be able to recoup your expenses from your parent's estate before it's divided up.

Hiring Help and Getting Paid for Your Time

6. Don't be afraid to hire outside caregiving help and share that expense. Whether you work full or part time, or stay home, you may need to find adult day services, or a senior center that provides meals, or hire a caregiver a few hours a week, so that you have the freedom to take care of your other responsibilities. This is perfectly understandable; don't get stuck in the guilt trap feeling like you signed on to do it all. You may also need transportation for your parent to and from the senior center or day care center, and may need to pay for that, too. Discuss these arrangements with other family members ahead of time, so they don't feel blindsided, and see if there are other options. Another family member might, for example, choose to step in and have Mom come for a visit every Thursday rather than pay for adult day services, and that's fine. But if no one else can provide regular, continuous care you can count on, then you'll need outside help, and that's a shared expense.

7. What about being paid for your time? This one is pretty individual, and every family situation is different. But here's the bottom line: If you or someone in your immediate family has to quit work or cut back hours in order to care for your aging family member, then that lost income is a family-wide issue. Likewise, your time. If your parent needs a lot of day-to-day care that would otherwise be provided in an assisted living facility or by a caregiver, and it's you doing that work, your family needs to acknowledge that time spent, and its impact on the rest of your life. Maybe they'll want to spring for a caregiver, maybe another family member can step in for a few shifts, or maybe they'd prefer to pay you for your time. But no matter what, the contribution of the one doing the caregiving needs to be acknowledged. You can also look into being paid as a caregiver through Medicare.

Of course, if an older family member is already living with you, and some of this advice is hitting a nerve, it's never to late to revisit arrangements. Call a family meeting and be direct and honest. Explain that you're happy having your family member in your home, but there were certain details about how it would all work financially that you didn't know enough to consider at the time. Lay it all out for the rest of the family, and explain that things need to change. It helps if you've made a budget, kept track of expenses, and can demonstrate what is and isn't working. Remember, your siblings are getting off easy, here. All the work and responsibility for your family member's care is falling on your shoulders, not to mention the inconvenience, lack of privacy, and at least occasional frustration and irritation of having an elderly person in your space. So let them step up to the plate in other ways, so you feel supported. It's the only way to protect other family relationships from the stress and strain of resentment.


over 3 years ago, said...

I just happened to Google this article, and I just need a place to vent. I'm 40 years old, working middle class male, twice divorced. I have two children (boys) from my each of my marriages and because of circumstances, I am the primary custodian of my youngest. I've really had bad luck with relationships and it had caused me to suffer through the "best years of my life" (my 30s). I am involved with both my kids and of course I pay child support for my oldest son who is 12. I still have 6 years of that financial responsibility and 14 years with my baby son. Miraculously, it feels sometimes, I've managed to live through these catastrophes without losing everything and maintaining a level of financial independence. I'm far from well off, but I have equity in my home, have only minor debt, have some pension and savings that are vested, and live in modest comfort. My 65 year old father, OTOH, is the poster child for life and financial mismanagement. He doesn't have a high school diploma, and chose at the age of around 35 to start a small business. When my parents divorced, he lost the house but kept the business. Me and my sister were grown, so he never paid a penny of child support. The business sustained him for about 15 years after my parents split up, but for some reason a couple of years ago he sold it. He was pretty much insolvent at the time. He had a commercial loan on the building that I believe he has struggled to pay by borrowing from high interest rate credit cards. He was essentially renting out the building to the person he bought the business from (but it was a sort of barter arrangement. They let him live in a house that they rented out for the rent of the building) my dad has always been a notorious "barter" and often has gotten shafted. Apparently, the business went belly up, and the renters are also in danger of losing the house my father lives in. (I know, it's a complex house of cards that is laughable if not for being my father). On the side, my father has also had a small national brand moving truck rental business. Part of the contract for that stipulates that he has to have the business kiosk located in conjunction with another business (for the double exposure that brings in new customers) when he sold his other business, he sort of cheated the contract by it still being on the same premises as the truck rental. But when they went belly up, and the national rental company found out, they have taken this small business away from him. So now, my father is left with only social security and a very small pension from a job he held in the 70s. Honestly, I doubt very seriously that his social security amounts to much. So here's the rub. I live 5 states away, with my baby son: I am still reasonably young and active. I have a piece of me that would consider remarriage it I ever met someone so great that I could invest trust in her. But even without that possibility at my doorstep, I have a difficult enough life as it is. I could not bear the thought of making such a drastic lifestyle change as to move a 65 year old man in to my smallish home. Especially if you knew my dad. He is OK with going days without a shower. He often wears the same clothes several days in a row. He has I recent years seemingly given up on himself. He's easily 75 lbs overweight in the ponch and diabetic. He wears a long, dirty beard. He chews tobacco and is unabashed at leaving "spit cups" sitting about the house. He doesn't clean up after himself. AT ALL. He wasn't even close to this pathetic when I was a kid at home. He was no shining example of cleanliness and having his stuff together, but I guess my mother masked things by being very compulsive about cleaning. Yesterday in a phone conversation my dad let me know about all of his recent problems with money. I think he's got three judgements against his debt. He's liable to lose everything, get kicked out of his rented home, and be forced to survive on his SS. I'm pretty sure that is the prognosis. My dad isn't in stellar health, I hate to be negative, but I would be surprised if he lives past 70. But sometimes people live longer than you expect. I shudder to think about him dying, but I can't deny that the bed he has made for himself is not one that I want to lay down in. There is no way that I, particularly at this time, can afford to offer any help to my dad. Even my meager retirement savings are not enough for such a burden, and besides, that's MY security so that I don't wind up in the same boat has him. I want my kids to have peace of mind that their future is not destined to take care of ME. In the phone conversation, get this, my dad asked if I had a spare room. (He's never been to this house). I told him I really didn't....but in the conversation, get THIS, he off-handed my mentioned he'd give me $200/month to live in a spare room and babysit for me "sometimes". LOL!!!! Even if you take for given that he bought his own groceries, clothes, paid his own medical bills, gas for his car, car maintenance, etc. (which trust me, I know he'd be laying guilt trips on me to help) ONLY $200/mo?????? I think my dad's financial brain is stuck in 1975 or something. $200/mo would only *begin* to cover the extra utilities and Inconvenience of cleaning up after him. It doesn't scratch the surface of giving up my privacy, my lifestyle, any ambitions of dating or remarriage, or provide any certainty that I won't be stuck caring for him for another 20 years. My father, at heart, is a decent man. But he's not living in reality. He lives in a 1930s mindset (which is the result of being born and raised to sort of poor rural parents himself). Yes, back in the old days when nuclear families were stronger and divorce wasn't so rampant, a married couple with several siblings to share the costs might move an older parent or in-law in for a time. Those days are long in the past, and even under those circumstances there was more financial incentive to do it if the older parent in question had planned for their old age. What my father is askin of me is to keep him from being homeless because he has done almost nothing to plan for himself while he was younger and able to do so. While I KNOW I can't do this, and I'm just NOT going to do this, I still feel a certain amount of coldness in my heart, and shame. Shame because of his poor choices, but also shame that I can't take him in. I just don't know what to think or feel anymore!!


over 5 years ago, said...

calmly addresses a thorny problem.


over 5 years ago, said...

Just a word of caution that if you are "paying yourself" to provide care to your loved one, this expense could very likely disqualify/penalize your parent for Medicaid eligibility, should the need arise to apply for Medicaid Payment and long term care. Be sure to keep a log of every penny spent and receipts wherever possible. It would be wise and well advised to seek counsel from an attorney who specializes in elder law. It is also advisable to ensure that Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy documents are in order to avoid issues down the road.


over 5 years ago, said...

@Home Caregiver Here is a variety of information with guidance on sibling relationships: http://www.caring.com/search?query=sibling+relationships. You can also get questions answered in Ask & Answer: http://www.caring.com/ask.


over 5 years ago, said...

Great tips. Also, there is a cost calculator located at www.makewayformom.com that addresses all of these issues. it surveys you on all the costs involved and then will give you a detailed comparison of the costs associated with moving mom in to your home vs. moving mom into a facility.


over 5 years ago, said...

That all sounds very reasonable but what if,as in my case,my sibling refuses to do anything and refuses to contribute financially. He says if I can not deal with it then put her,our mother,in a nursing home. This is exactly what neither my mother or I want and he knows that. God willing Mom will live with me until she dies. What now????


over 5 years ago, said...

my dad's been with us for about 7 months now and I can attest to the "hidden" costs. LOTS of time spent at doctor's offices - that's become a real source of frustration - we spend 3 hours to see the doctor for 10 minutes. My time is valuable too. My dad keeps telling me to charge him a monthly fee but I know he's thinking something like 150.00 when the costs are much higher and I don't want him to feel like he can't afford to be here. My brother, who lives in another state, is good about calling and staying informed on what's happening. We're going for a visit next month and I'll bring a copy of this article with me so we can have a chat about finances and future plans.


over 5 years ago, said...

The article lays out the specifics, eleviating some of the guilt. Our parents raised us (some well, some not so well); some of our parents don't have income (due to their bad choices), some of us don't have siblings to share the burden with . . . still, it was informative to read and relize that we are not alone in this.


over 5 years ago, said...

This article is exactly right! My mom has LBD and we had an addition built for her to move into my house bc her assisted living was costing @ $7,000/month. She had set aside some money for her care, but she figured she would only be sick a year or two before she died. Nobody was prepared for dementia. Anyhow, we used her money to build the addition and my siblings thought it was wrong for us to do so. We were also stressed out with the additional utilities and I had to take time off work for medical appointments and when her caregiver was not available. My siblings just don't get it so I had an estate lawyer draw up a contract between my mother and I. I am sure they will balk at it, but I have POA so they will just have to live with it. Despite all the hardships my family has had to endure (loss of privacy, freedom, less income, etc.) I do not regret having my mom home with me. She was languishing at Sunrise. Since she has been home she hasn't had to be hospitalized once and she's been with us almost a year now. Her quality of life is greatly improved and she is happy. I have hired a wonderful caregiver for her and I don't have any anxiety over whether or not she is being taken care of. Nope, no regrets at all.


over 5 years ago, said...

The tips in this article are helpful today as they were a year ago. The important thing is to take time to read them, understand them, digest them. Oftentimes, we are thrust into caregiving. We need to act...NOW. Yet, taking time to understand these tips NOW will prevent heartache and even greater struggle among siblings later. I know. It's been 14 years since my siblings and I have communicated--sad. Details in "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's http://www.thecaregiversvoice.com/products-services/tcv-books/


almost 6 years ago, said...

I must say caregiving is a difficult, stressful yet a rewarding position. It will certainly cost more than initially expected, as it takes from one financially, emotionally, socially, spiritually and can easily tear up a family, cause health issues and alienate one. Our family had issues, you could say rather "dysfunctional," prior to my mother's stroke over 20 years ago now. Mom and I were never particularly close, though I know she loved all of her children; even so, I was not one of her favorites while growing up. I have been the one who has been in charge of her care, and have been disappointed to the point of devastation at times at the lack of support I received from my siblings. I had to finally come to grips with the facts and quit fighting it, quit resenting them and stop expecting anything more than they are willing to devote. Once I decided I was on my own and would receive little more than criticism and accusations from the others, I had to look at why I am choosing to continue and feel it more of an honor than a punishment. Don't think mother and I don't have our moments, she has caused much frustration, hurt and disappointment at times, where I thought I would never be able to forgive her. But when I look at her life and what she has had to go through, I do feel that all in all she has proven to be tougher than I would ever have imagined. My siblings love my mother, I am sure, in their own way, and just can't deal with the changes her disability has caused her and are probably afraid of what the future holds for them. They go on cruises, fun trips, buy whatever they desire while I struggle financially and emotionally, then criticize me if I can't make ends meet from my small retirement check, after going through a good-sized savings, giving up my job, friends, homeowner status and living paycheck to paycheck. When convenient for them, they will stop by and take mom to lunch or visit for an hour or so, then back to their lives. I still have a difficult time understanding how my sister, especially, can be so self-centered and uncaring, but that is really nothing new for her; it is just so much more obvious now. Though it hurts more than I can express, I feel good for the most part that I am able to care for mom, and can spend time with her during her last years. Even with the bad times, we have a lot of special talks and experiences that I wouldn't give up for anything. If I had my job back and another family member were to be in a caregiving role, I can't imagine breezing in to tell them about my latest holiday and breeze out before I had to hear their depressing stories or news. I am happy that I have feelings and a helping nature, and don't have to avoid anybody or anything out of guilt. I know there are all kinds of people, and many feel no desire to help those less fortunate and still feel entitled to any perks than they would get if they did. It never ceases to amaze me, but all I can hope is that something like what happened to my mother does not happen to them. They could never accept a disability like my mother has done. Oh yes, and my second sister has done--since birth has had severe Cerebral Palsy--and guess who is the only sibling who visits her and takes her out whenever possible? How did you guess--even though she is 5 miles from my one sister and 65 miles from me! She is developmentally disabled, unable to speak and in a wheelchair, but has the best attitude, is the most loving and beautiful person I have had the pleasure to know. Go figure . . .. Let go of the resentments if it will keep you sane; we can all be grateful for who we are and what we have. I would much rather have my values than my siblings' any day of the week. I would like to have my own life, too, but one cannot have everything!


almost 6 years ago, said...

I must say caregiving is a difficult, stressful yet a rewarding position. It will certainly cost more than initially expected, as it takes from one financially, emotionally, socially, spiritually and can easily tear up a family, cause health issues and alienate one. Our family had issues, you could say rather "dysfunctional," prior to my mother's stroke over 20 years ago now. Mom and I were never particularly close, though I know she loved all of her children; even so, I was not one of her favorites while growing up. I have been the one who has been in charge of her care, and have been disappointed to the point of devastation at times at the lack of support I received from my siblings. I had to finally come to grips with the facts and quit fighting it, quit resenting them and stop expecting anything more than they are willing to devote. Once I decided I was on my own and would receive little more than criticism and accusations from the others, I had to look at why I am choosing to continue and feel it more of an honor than a punishment. Don't think mother and I don't have our moments, she has caused much frustration, hurt and disappointment at times, where I thought I would never be able to forgive her. But when I look at her life and what she has had to go through, I do feel that all in all she has proven to be tougher than I would ever have imagined. My siblings love my mother, I am sure, in their own way, and just can't deal with the changes her disability has caused her and are probably afraid of what the future holds for them. They go on cruises, fun trips, buy whatever they desire while I struggle financially and emotionally, then criticize me if I can't make ends meet from my small retirement check, after going through a good-sized savings, giving up my job, friends, homeowner status and living paycheck to paycheck. When convenient for them, they will stop by and take mom to lunch or visit for an hour or so, then back to their lives. I still have a difficult time understanding how my sister, especially, can be so self-centered and uncaring, but that is really nothing new for her; it is just so much more obvious now. Though it hurts more than I can express, I feel good for the most part that I am able to care for mom, and can spend time with her during her last years. Even with the bad times, we have a lot of special talks and experiences that I wouldn't give up for anything. If I had my job back and another family member were to be in a caregiving role, I can't imagine breezing in to tell them about my latest holiday and breeze out before I had to hear their depressing stories or news. I am happy that I have feelings and a helping nature, and don't have to avoid anybody or anything out of guilt. I know there are all kinds of people, and many feel no desire to help those less fortunate and still feel entitled to any perks than they would get if they did. It never ceases to amaze me, but all I can hope is that something like what happened to my mother does not happen to them. They could never accept a disability like my mother has done. Oh yes, and my second sister has done--since birth has had severe Cerebral Palsy--and guess who is the only sibling who visits her and takes her out whenever possible? How did you guess--even though she is 5 miles from my one sister and 65 miles from me! She is developmentally disabled, unable to speak and in a wheelchair, but has the best attitude, is the most loving and beautiful person I have had the pleasure to know. Go figure . . .. Let go of the resentments if it will keep you sane; we can all be grateful for who we are and what we have. I would much rather have my values than my siblings' any day of the week. I would like to have my own life, too, but one cannot have everything!


almost 7 years ago, said...

You are in a tough spot! You do need to know their exact financial situation to see if there is any assistance they may qualify for or if they were a verteran, there is an aid and assistance program for them. Nursing homes especially for Alzheimer's patients are very costly and assisted living places are pretty much private pay, too, as far as I've been told. Unless your parent has "spent down" to a minimal savings amount, they can't get help from Medicaid/Medical or similar programs. Speaking from experience, caregiving for an elderly parent in your home is extremely stressful and should be well thought out. My husband is an only child and we cared for his 88 year old mom for 4 years in our home. I could write a book on on the problems that occured and the many stresses involved. We just moved her to a residential board & care home a few months ago, since she now needs around the clock care. As a child you do want to be involved with your parent's care and help them, but you need to do a lot of research and have some serious talks with those involved. It is a hard struggle as we feel obligated but you do have to "look on both sides" and you need to consider your feelings, too...you are not being selfish! It may cost a good amount of money but if they can be in a assisted living environment with similar seniors, with compassionate, 24 hr. caregivers overseeing their needs, they may thrive better and be happier. Just my thoughts...if you want more insight, let me know, but I would try to find an alternate living arrangement (besides your home) and don't let others "guilt" you. I know this is a very stressful time for you! There are some resources out there, but I had to really dig around. Try joining a caregiver's support group and seek out geriatric specialists or other eldercare counselors. This site has some great Q & As plus very good advice from their experts!


almost 7 years ago, said...

Have you tried the Caregiver Notebook from the Alzheimer's Association? Also, in our county we have a 211 website with health care info and links. Do you have one in your area? The nursing home where my MIL used to live had a special security wing for Alzheimer's patients. They wander and there are liability issues if they wander off and get hurt.


almost 7 years ago, said...

Hellooooo ? What if you're an only child? I am being pressured by the 'healthy' 88 year old parent to care for an ill, fragile, Alzheimer's patient who is also 88, in my home. I am trying to convince them that the nursing care costs would be so much more than the costs of a higher care assisted living arrangement. Does anyone know of any resources for financial/cost data that I could refer to? The emotional stress of trying to keep an ill parent OUT of my home, where they would be isolated and less served, while requiring much more in terms of attention and lifestyle sacrifices from all family members is exhausting me. Please comment.