Here\’s a tough one . . .

Your Mom and/or Dad has moved in with you. At some point s/he told you s/he wants to pay you something to help defray the cost and you said no. Or maybe when the subject came up and you were uncomfortable and said “let\’s discuss it later”.

I mean. . . what do you say? Your aging loved one is now living with you so s/he is not a guest. In fact, it\’s even worse than that . . . they\’re your parents!! After all they\’ve done for you, can you seriously ask them to pay rent? So now s/he has moved in with you and the issue of money has never been resolved.

First of all, repeat after me: “Yes, s/he is my parent but we\’re not living together as parent and child – we\’re living together as adults and this is an adult/adult relationship.” Please keep this mantra in mind. You might even want to print it out and tape it onto your mirror.

And second, no, I\’m not saying they should pay rent or any expenses. Nor am I saying they shouldn\’t. You may have plenty of money and you don\’t want them to pay for anything. Or you many need them to chip in and help defray some of the costs. And frankly, your aging loved one probably wants to contribute something. The point is that money is one of the most sensitive issues you\’ll have to address with your aging loved one so it shouldn\’t be ignored either.

The thing about expenses is that usually they are in such small, “insignificant” amounts that you don\’t realize how much money you\’re actually spending. Whether it\’s paying for things like medications or purchasing additional food or toilet paper or Depends, whether it\’s gas for visits or to take them to appointments, or whether it\’s installing safety bars in the bathroom, caregiving can have a significant economic impact on a family. In fact – a 1998 study found that 49% of Baby Boomer women caregivers suffered “financial hardship” as a result of their caregiving.

Unfortunately, most Baby Boomer women weren\’t raised to be comfortable establishing boundaries or asking for what they need – financially or otherwise. While you\’re not looking to make any money from your loved one living with you, it shouldn\’t cost you anything either. You may not want them to pay for anything but over time, you may end up suffering “financial hardship” as a result of caregiving and resent the cost or worse yet . . . resent your aging loved one.

So what do you do?

  • The first step to determining how much your aging loved one might pay is looking at how much money they have. If they have very little (not enough even to cover basic costs) then you will have to pay some of the expenses yourself or ask your sibs to chip in. It\’s important to be prepared for that. You will also want to talk with your accountant to see if there is anything you can do on your taxes.
  • Then guesstimate all the expenses and compare that number with how much they actually have to contribute. Bear in mind that initially you\’ll be guessing and you may need to revise the amount later on. If that happens tell them “We agreed to $XXXX . Unfortunately that amount turned out to be unrealistic. We need to take a look at the numbers again.”
  • Rather than getting reimbursed for expenses – and therefore having to keep track of every expense (eg: $5 deductible when you pick up their prescriptions, special foods) – have them give you a set amount – whether monthly or quarterly – that you\’ll work from. Whether or not you refund any leftover money is up to the two of you.
  • Openly discuss with your aging loved one what the money is for. However, while they\’re entitled to know, it need not become a “nickel/dime” issue. In other words, rather than accounting for every roll of toilet paper for example, give them a general figure for sundries.
  • Over and above expenses, you may want them to pay a set amount to help defray the cost of such expenses as the rent/mortgage, utilities, etc.
  • However, while they may only be able to pay very little, they probably want to pay something. Be creative. Perhaps they\’ll pay for a meal once a month (either out or at home) and even that can be as much or as little as they can comfortably afford.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure they have “walking around” money – money that is theirs and for which they account to no one. Rather than having them give you all their money and then giving them an “allowance” (which is very demeaning), it\’s better to have them give you what was agreed to EXCEPT for their own spending money. Whether they save for the holidays or buy drinks or lunch for friends or wager on a friendly game of Bingo – it\’s theirs and how they spend it or when they spend it is their business. However, if they come back to you for more at the end of every month, then it becomes your business.

    Some things to think about:

    Consider the one-time expenses required to get your house ready (such as banisters, tub rails, etc) and get that reimbursed or have them pay for it directly. This would be separate from the monthly expenses.

    Start by looking at and addressing the current situation with the understanding that needs will change over time. It\’s important to discuss this in the very beginning. For example, you may start by getting money for miscellaneous expenses but eventually have to be reimbursed for such things as

    • in-home aide while you\’re at work
    • additional remodeling to accommodate their needs (eg changing the tub to a shower)
    • a “fill-in caregiver when your work takes you away

    If there are physical and/or cognitive issues, I strongly recommend that you get on their checking account NOW before there\’s a need so you can still pay for their care even if they can no longer write checks.

    I can appreciate that this all may sound kind of mercenary but consider the following . . . part of an email that came to me from a client:
    “She (my mother) also told us that, since we were working so hard in an effort to sell our home and buy a new home to accommodate her more comfortably, she was going to buy all the groceries and cook all the meals so that I didn\’t have to food shop or cook. She gave me one $20 bill for one lunch and never mentioned it again! Now every time I make a meal I get angrier and angrier.”

    Don\’t let this happen to you – address the money issue openly right up front and it won\’t have to!!

    Barbara Friesner is the country's leading Generational Coach and an expert on issues affecting Seniors and their families. She has been interviewed for Advising Boomers magazine, featured on NY1 TV's Focus on Seniors and Coping with Caregiving on wsRadio. She has also been quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country and her articles have been published in the CAPSule, the Children of Aging Parent's newsletter.