Shannon Guignard didn’t hesitate for a moment when her parents asked to move in with her because they no longer felt safe in their neighborhood.
“I want them be happy in their last years,” said Guignard, “so I can sacrifice.”
Guignard’s parents now live with her, her husband, Roger and her 20-year-old son, Cortney, in their Mesquite, Texas, home — a situation that is becoming more commonplace.
“What we’re seeing is the demise of the notion of the nuclear family in favor of the extended family,” said John L. Graham, co-author of “Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living.”
Since 1990, the number of multigenerational households has grown about 40 percent, said Graham, professor emeritus of marketing and international business at the University of California at Irvine.
“There are now some 50 million Americans — greater than 16 percent — living in such households around the country,” he said. “With life expectancies increasing, baby boomers retiring and pension funds failing, these numbers will only continue to accelerate.”
This shift raises financial implications that must be considered before you make room in your home for mom and dad.
“They need to work all those details out before they make the move,” said Linda Ross, director of the elder support program at the Senior Source in Dallas. “Sometimes these things come up in a crisis mode, but as much as possible, people who think this might become an issue should be thinking about this early on.”
Your parents may be healthy now, but don’t let that stop you from thinking ahead and making plans.
“Keep in mind that even if your parents are totally highly functioning now, anything can happen,” said Amy Goyer, AARP’s family expert and a specialist in multigenerational issues. “That can change overnight.”
YOUR PARENTS’ NEEDS
Assess what your parents’ needs really are.
“Get a good idea of where your parent is functioning now,” Goyer said. “What kind of needs do they have, at what level are they functioning? A lot of times, the adult children don’t really have a clear picture of what their parents’ needs are. They may get flickers of something’s not quite good here.”
You can get an accurate picture by hiring a geriatric care manager to conduct an assessment.
“They will look at activities of daily living,” Goyer said. “Do they need help going to doctor appointments? Can they be left alone?”
A geriatric care manager can also tell you if you will need to spend money to remodel your home or modify it to make it physically safer for your elderly parents.
INVOLVE THE FAMILY
It’s critical that all family members be included in the discussion, and it’s one of the biggest hurdles a family must overcome.
“All siblings should be involved in the process because everybody may need to chip in and help out in order to avoid one party not feeling that they’re carrying all the load,” Ross said.
If other family members are unable or unwilling to help, you may need to hire someone to help you with tasks, such as cooking and cleaning.
“You can look at having money set aside and having accessible money because you may need it fast,” Goyer said.
Know what kind of health insurance your parents have and what it covers. Do they need more coverage? Do they have long-term care insurance?
“You want to know their sources of income,” Goyer said. “Are you going to need to supplement their income, pay the bills?”
Be prepared for the impact this move will have on your lifestyle.
“Life is about to change dramatically, especially if they move into the house,” said Suzanne Cobb, director of the Guardianship and Money Management Program at the Senior Source.
When her parents moved in about seven years ago, Shannon Guignard and her husband moved from their four-bedroom home into a rental to give Guignard’s parents their own space.
They moved back into their home last fall to live with her parents because “it was just becoming too much to pay a mortgage and to pay rent,” said Guignard, a guardianship case manager at the Senior Source.
Guignard and her husband moved into a smaller bedroom to give her parents the master bedroom. Their son has his own room.
A critical issue to address is how taking in your parents would affect the personal space of everyone in the household.
“It’s tight sometimes, and it kind of invades your privacy, and you have to think about if you’re willing to deal with all of that,” Guignard said.
But her family worked it out.
“My mom has reign over the den area and watches her soap operas,” Guignard said.
Her father converted another bedroom into his office, where he keeps his computer and TV. “That’s his domain,” she said.
The family gathers in the kitchen, where her mother does the cooking.
WHO PAYS FOR WHAT?
Figure out whether mom and dad will contribute financially to the household and, if so, how much.
“They need to assess what realistically the elderly parents will be able to contribute financially to the family,” Ross said. “They may be already expending all their meager Social Security on their medications and other expenses and not be able to contribute as much. You want to work out who’s going to pay for what.”
In her household, Guignard’s parents help pay for the utilities and the groceries. Her mother also pays for their lawn service.
Shannon’s 64-year-old mother gets disability benefits from Social Security and her father, 71, receives a federal pension and retiree health benefits.
DON’T LOSE PERSPECTIVE
It may be tough to reconcile this with your desire to help your parents, but keep things in perspective and don’t jeopardize your own retirement.
“You definitely don’t want to undermine your retirement savings by financially taking over and having to pay so much of their expenses and not being aware of your own retirement planning,” Goyer said.
“It’s a really tough situation to be in. Do the best that you can not to completely put your retirement planning aside.”
RESOURCES FOR HELP
The Eldercare Locator: A nationwide service provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that connects older Americans and their caregivers with information on senior services. www.eldercare.gov
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: A professional association of attorneys dedicated to improving the quality of legal services provided to seniors and people with special needs. www.naela.org
Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.