Aging in place continues to increase in popularity, but what to do when you notice an older loved one is having trouble living safely at home is an issue many of us face. Troublesome signs like a dirty home in poor repair, unpaid bills, piles of mail, and food out of date or spoiled in the kitchen, poor personal hygiene, and trouble managing medications are all warning signs that your senior is struggling. When visiting, you may notice a loss of weight, disoriented behavior, or lonely and depressive behaviors. When these signs reveal themselves to you, it is time for your older relative to move in with you or into some senior living community where the situation is safer.
Even before the pandemic, polls began showing a shift to the living trend of a century ago, when most seniors lived with their adult children in a multi-generational house. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports that older parents are moving in with their adult children and comprising a larger component of shared living than a generation ago. AARP states, “Today, 14 percent of adults living in someone else’s household are a parent of the household head, up from 7 percent in 1995.” And with many Americans now working from home, keeping a watchful eye over a parent is easier than ever.
If you consider moving your loved one into your home, there are several things to consider before making a move. For example, you might think the idea is fantastic, but how will it affect other current household members, spouses, or children? Does everyone get along, or will you be importing conflict? Are your lifestyles compatible regarding quiet hours, entertaining guests? Is smoking a habit of someones that needs consideration? Is your home big enough, or will someone have to give up their room?
Is your home suitable for the needs of your loved one? Can they be housed on a single floor without having to use stairs? Can your parent bring their familiar belongings and furniture with them? Perhaps it is feasible to create a “mother-in-law” apartment with a separate entrance or invest in a backyard cottage, the so-called granny pod. If they reside in your active home, what modifications can you make to create a safer environment? Things like night lights, the removal of area rugs, or adding grab bars in the shower or an additional handrail on the stairs can make big safety differences.
Who will be tasked to help your parent? The fact that your parent now lives with you should not mean you are at their service all of the time. Many well-meaning adult children make this mistake. At the outset of living together, a parent is usually fairly self-sufficient. Still, in time they will require more, and if you do not begin your living experiment employing outside help, you will fall into a trap where your time is no longer your own. Share tasks with other family members and make them do their part. Find local senior support services and check out professional in-home care to ensure your loved one becomes accustomed to others providing support to them.
If not in your home, where will your loved one go? Living in a family multi-generational home isn’t for everyone. Your parent might prefer “shared-living” adults living under the same roof but not romantically involved, a sort of roommate experience. Or perhaps a retirement community with defined living stages, from independent to assisted, and full-time care. Many families find living together can save money but not necessarily sanity and look to house their parents out of direct living contact. Talk it out as a family. Even if the conversation is difficult to have, it is better than responding to a catastrophic fall or illness, forcing a change of housing for your parent.
Find out how your aging loved one feels about the next step when they will no longer be able to live alone. Your parent’s thoughts may surprise you. It can help to speak with an elder attorney to address issues that invariably present themselves. If your parent sells their home, how will they handle the profit? Should you want a monthly living expense contribution? Can you claim your parent as a dependent on your tax return? Your parent may no longer have to pay bills but may have other assets and policies to manage; who will handle asset management and premium payments? Goodwill goes a long way to a successful living arrangement but so does preparedness. Having pre-set a structure to address issues will allow you to focus on enjoying your time with your loved one.
If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
— By Dara M. Hensel, Estate Planning Paralegal, Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates PC