Are We Taking Advantage?

9 answers | Last updated: Sep 12, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My husband and I are living with my grandmother (it has been a family house for generations, it's paid off). She has pretty advanced macular degeneration, and can barely see. She has asthma that is usually under control but it can get bad at times. She gets confused easily and is more forgetful every day.

We help her out by doing all the grocery shopping out of our own pockets, cooking dinner every night, reminding her of appointments, driving her places she needs to go and making sure she takes her meds. My husband does home maintenance and the yard work (except for weeding, which she loves to do), last year he re-sodded her entire lawn, and this summer he is going to paint her house. We spend time with her every night; watching movies, the news, chatting, etc. And we help her read her mail, find items she's lost, and anything else she has trouble seeing. We keep an eye on her asthma and suggest going to the doctor when her breathing gets bad and we help her find her inhaler when misplaces it. We help out with housework, though she does insist on doing some herself.

We moved in because my husband was laid off and we tried to pay rent for a few months but she eventually asked us not to because it was very hard on us financially.

My aunt threw a huge fit, saying we are taking advantage of my grandma by not paying rent. She even called adult protective services on us for "using" my grandma financially.

I am wondering, are we taking advantage? If we weren't here, how much would she have to pay someone to do the things we do? I doubt if we weren't here that she could even stay in her home. I would also like to know the approximate value of what we are doing for my grandma for if my aunt tries to push this issue.

I love my grandma very much and I hate the thought of hurting her in any way.

Thank you for your feedback.

Expert Answers

Frederick Hertz is a lawyer, mediator and author based in Oakland, California whose work focuses on property co-ownership and financial relationships between siblings, families, spouses and domestic partners, business partners, friends, and unmarried couples. He provides both transaction and negotiation counsel and also serves as a mediator and arbitrator in these areas.

These are always hard situations, and my initial response is to say that the best approach would be to sit down with your aunt and talk with her about the work you are doing, and why it is so helpful to your grandmother. Engage your aunt in an open discussion of the options for your grandmother, and explore with her what it would take to reproduce this same level of care using professional help. You want to listen to her concerns, understand them better, and try to get her to see the benefits you are providing to your grandmother. Then, once the atmosphere has cleared a bit you can address the financial issues. You should keep track of the number of hours you and your husband typically work in a month, in detail, and then ask around to see what caregivers in your locale typically charge. Then, find out what the typical monthly rent would be for the house you are occupying. You can then present these findings to your aunt to show her the benefits you are providing and how they outweigh the rental value of the house.
Finally, it would be good if your grandmother could talk directly to your aunt, to explain why she prefers the current arrangement.

Community Answers

Carolyn l. rosenblatt answered...

I agree with Frederick's recommendations. I would add that Genworth has done a comprehensive study on the costs of caregiving. The report is available to the public online (Cost of Caregiving)The national averages are listed in their study for homemaker services, as well as other kinds of care by state. In New York for example a full time homemaker would cost about $46,500 per year. To that you would add the supervision of medication, transportation to doctor's appointments, gardening and painting, all costed out separately. I do not think it sounds as if you are taking advantage of your grandmother. She needs the help and you have a place to live in exchange. Your aunt may be like some family members I have encountered who believe that all relatives should donate all their time free to an elderly family member because it's family. She may not appreciate what a full time job it is to care for an elder at home and keep her safe. Providing her with facts and figures may not be enough. Her position may be based on emotion, rather than logic; i.e., it's what you're "supposed to do". Do keep track of all the hours you spend and the dollars you invest in helping grandma. A total for the month may be useful to help your aunt see that what you do is a major contribution and it has a dollar value.

Ca-claire answered...

It sounds to me like your Grandmother is very lucky to have someone like you and your husband to live with her and help her to stay in her own home.

If I read your description correctly, you and your husband pay for all the groceries, you help with the housework, cook the meals, do the medication reminders, and take her to the Dr's. Your husband it sounds like takes care of the 'outside' chores - gardening, mowing, edging, resodding, painting. Just out of curiosity, did you and your husband pay for the sod, and will you be paying for the paint, or did/will Grandmother?

To me, unless you live in a very small place, with a postage stamp sized lot, you are more than earning your keep in taking care of Grandmother. For a month, keep track of the time you spend (searching for something she has misplaced, helping her read her mail/paper/magazines, laundry of her clothing, lawncare/yardcare, shopping, Dr.'s appts and such.

After you have a month of time logged, meet with your parent and your aunt. Show them what time it is 'costing' you and your husband to care for Grandmother, highlight anything that you do after 6pm, as that would show that she needs 24 hour care. Figure at least $25/hour for assistance in home, more if you live near large cities. Then see what your aunt and parent have to say. I say have your parent there, so you have 'backup' for what you say.

Father of nations answered...

This is not a lot of information to go on, but it certainly sounds like Aunt Absurd is the one worried about what she can get from grandma. I'm a mid-60s widower who loves doing home repairs and fix-it jobs. I have several physical problems which keep me from doing much any more. My mid-20s son, his wife and their two young children live with me and have since shortly after they got married. I'm paying a mortgage but it doesn't matter whether there are five of us or one. The mortgage is the same. This young couple are both vets and got out of the military when they married, so they could raise a family. However, housing is very expensive, so I suggested they move in with me. They keep the house fixed, I get to do what I can around the house and yard with my son doing the "heavy lifting" and they are there if something happens to me. They have use of most of the house and the kids can get noisy, but the companionship they provide and the physical and emotional support, is worth surrendering some of my solitude. I honestly believe this is the way families are supposed to be - mutually edification. They do for me things I couldn't do alone, while I provide them with things they couldn't afford. Our culture has been keeping families together for many, many generations. It has only be recently that kids and grandparents aren't automatically considered part of the family unit. My kids live with us when they were little and needed support and now I live with them while I need support. When I am gone, the baton of responsibility will be passed to another family member.

Tamee d answered...

My sister and her husband are in the same situation with our mom. I wanted my sister and her family to have the house in exchange for living there and taking full care of our mom. I had two sisters disagree. My sister who lives with mom consultated an attorney. It turns out that since my sister is living there and doing 24/7 care she can legally have the house transferred to her. We went in to the attorney with our mom (one of my sisters came around and the other has not). We now have the house in my sisters name (who lives there). It is only fair. If only you were paid minimum wage ($7.25 in Iowa) for the 24/7 care it would be $63,510.00 a year. That is more than our mom's house is worth and she will need care for several years. Your other family memebers should be grateful and help you as much as they are able. Unfortuanately few people step up to the plate when needed. God bless you and what you are doing!

A fellow caregiver answered...

You are not taking advantage at all!! When my mother's health was failing (macular degeneration, dementia) my son, her grandson, moved in with her. It was a win-win for our son, Grandma,and for the aunts & uncles. He maintained the house, an acre yard, and purchased all the food and cooked for her. Let Angry Aunt know how lucky the Aunt should be!! Grandma lived in NY and he would shovel the driveway and walkways, rake leaves,take out the trash. Our mother could not have lived in her home for years without her grandson being there. He was there when she fell out of bed, had low blood sugar episodes, and always helped her find her glasses and the TV remote. Companionship was the biggest asset and helped everyone in the family.He also worked full time. We had a health care aide come in for 2 hours a day for the last 2 years at lunchtime, and that was $1200 a month. Now my mother is in a nursing home and it costs $13,000 a MONTH. The grandson purchased the house at a fair price and those funds are being used. Imagine the costs if the grandson had not stepped i!!!

Cathye answered...

You're not taking advantage. You are taking care of her. You said she couldn't live by herself. The aunt who was so upset isn't doing the work or having the stress. If you can leave for a little while and let the aunt take care of her she might change her attitude. So sorry.

Joanbrooks answered...

i dont think it is using or taking advantage at all. i have a simular situation. i live 1/4 mile from my mom. i take her lunch clean her house wash her clothes, pick her up every day for dinner 7 days a week. my siblings live 1,000 miles away. My mom has dementia. she also just recently had a tumor removed from her colon and has a colonoscophy bag. She has not been released from hospital. Home health care is so expensive that if and when family members can fill in so be it. the money they have saved will dwindle in a hurry after they are admitted somewhere and also any home and property. I say keep them home and happy as long as you can. It is a burden and pressing on every day life, but they cared for you as a child and it is your turn now.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Hi there, sounds like you are treating your loved one good and not taking advantage of her in any way. Sometimes we listen to the bs that other people say and not sure why they do that. You are doing the right thing, so God bless and good luck.