What is my liability as a live-in caregiver?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I moved in with an elderly couple three years ago. The women died about six weeks ago. I am currently caring for the man who 97 years-old with some dementia but otherwise healthy. I take care of his medicine and general hygiene. There are also two aging poodles.

We stay in a nice home on the beach. My girlfriend, who is a nurse, stays here when she is not working her 8 hour day at the hospital. The family is currently paying 1500.00 a month to me and $500.00 to her. This comes to about 50 to 60 hours a week for me. Does this sound fair also, am I liable for anything?

Expert Answer

Merrily Orsini, MSSW, was a pioneer in the business of providing geriatric care managed in-home care. She currently serves on the board of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and is Chair of the Private Duty Homecare Association. She holds a master's degree in social work and is a nationally known writer and speaker on aging, elder issues, and in-home care.

This question is difficult to answer as there are several levels of potential liability. One is taxes, payment for services and liability for that aspect of the care. If you are an independent contractor then you are responsible (liable) for reporting your wages and that aspect of the value of a place to live (room and board) as income. Filing taxes and paying the required social security and local, state taxes as well would fall on you. If the couple (now the man) employs you, then, depending on the state you are in and whether or not the companion exemption is in place in that state, you may/may not be eligible for overtime for those hours over 40 that you work. Someone has to pay the required taxes and withholdings. $1500 a month works out to $350 a week, and 50-60 hours a week works out to a payment hourly of either almost $7 (50 hours) or around $5.80 for 60 hours. So depending on the value of the room and board, you may not be making even minimum wage, not counting any overtime. The companion exemption was put into place for situations such as this, however, so someone could care for an elderly person and not have to deal with overtime. However, someone is liable for reporting and paying taxes, either you or your employer. Your girlfriend also is benefitting from room and board, so that is income as well, plus her $500 a month, which I assume is to relieve you. The same issues around payment and reporting apply to her. The other area of liability that would concern me is the protective services aspect. I would make certain that someone else has access and oversight to the checkbook and payments for household maintenance. You really do not want to get into a position where someone is questioning your decisions on payments for food, pet care, and services to the home. Yet another area for a potential red flag is the medication monitoring, depending on his health. If there are decisions that need to be made about dosage and frequency, then someone with a medical background needs to be providing some oversight. I would contact an elder care attorney http://www.naela.org/ or a geriatric care manager http://www.caremanager.org/ in your area to get some specific advice about legal liabilities in all of these areas so that you are aware of your liabilities and responsibilities as regards employment, taxes, care and protective services.