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When mom or dad move in with you

Here's how to navigate the potential emotional and financial pitfalls.

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Key takeaways

  • Involve the whole family in your planning.
  • Understand your parents' needs.
  • Consider both the financial and emotional consequences.
  • Get help with caregiving if you need it.

Increasingly, adult children are laying out the welcome mat for their aging parents. In 1995, older parents were the extra adults in a household 7% of the time. By 2018, that figure had doubled to 14%.*

These days, aging parents are moving in with their adult children for a number of reasons. Parents may be downsizing to squeeze more value out of their retirement savings. Or a widowed parent might be lonely, want to become more involved with their kids' lives, or even opt to become a primary caregiver for a young child. Often, older parents simply can't live independently any longer but the family isn't ready to move them into an assisted living facility.

Bringing a parent into your home can seem like the ultimate act of compassion. Despite the poetic symmetry of this role reversal, caring for an aging parent can also be a substantial sacrifice for everyone involved. Before getting a room ready for Mom or Dad, it's important to slow down, make sure everyone is on the same page, and weigh the advantages and disadvantages. It's also critical to have a realistic plan for the future, since the situation will almost certainly change—often in ways that make decisions more difficult to make.

Find common ground. Despite your best intentions, your parents may not be as enthusiastic about being in your home as you are about having them there. Or the opposite may be true and you may be the reluctant party. Either way, it's important that you and your parents are clear about your goals as well as your concerns. Start by having a frank conversation about why the parent is moving in, and what you each hope to gain—and potentially stand to lose—from this arrangement.

Involve the whole family. Make sure your spouse and your children are on board with the idea of an older relative moving in with you. If they aren't, listen to their concerns and work to address them. Also bring other adult siblings into the decision-making process, even if they don't live with you. They may have strong feelings about the right course of action for Mom or Dad, and it's better to include them early than experience friction down the road.

Figure out what your parent needs. If your parent is moving in with you because of a health issue you must consider how much care they need now and in the future. Is it more care than you and other family members can provide? If so, what level of care will be needed? A specialist on aging in place or an occupational therapist can give you an unbiased view of your parent's condition and what you can expect in the months and years to come.

Make a plan—together. If your parent will need extra care, talk about what that will look like. Some of this discussion may be financial: If specialized care is required, who will pay for it? The conversation also may look further into the future. For instance, you may want to agree to consider assisted-living situations should their health or mental abilities decline. Make sure you look at these decisions from both your parents' point of view and yours. Even if you're determined to care for them until the end of their days no matter how difficult it is, they may not feel comfortable with you shouldering that burden.

Have the money talk. Talk with your parent about their financial situation. Do they have money (such as a portion of Social Security) that they can contribute to the household? If their finances are limited, find other ways they can pitch in—say, cooking a few dinners during the week or helping watch your children after school. Also discuss who will pay for their medical care today and in the years to come. If you have siblings, talk with them about how best to split these costs. Work together to alter the family budget so it reflects this new financial reality and find ways for your siblings to do their part in caring for Mom or Dad.

Call the contractor. Adding an in-law apartment or reconfiguring a first-floor office into a bedroom, while pricey, could deliver much-needed privacy, convenience, and comfort for the whole household—and parents might be able to tap their nest egg to help finance the major renovation. Also consider "aging in place" renovations that might involve making single floor living arrangements to avoid stairs, making bathrooms more accessible, installing adequate lighting throughout the home and widening doorways to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.

Be tax smart. Your new living situation may yield some benefits at tax time. For example:

  • If you qualify and have a parent who doesn't work or has gross income low enough (under $4,300 in 2020), you may be able to claim them as a dependent on your tax return.
  • If your parent still works, you could charge them a reasonable rent and write off expenses related to excess utility and food costs.
  • If you have a parent in the home who needs constant care, you may also qualify for the dependent care credit, which covers up to 35% of the cost of a parent's care up to $3,000 per year. Many employers offer a dependent care benefit through a flexible spending account.
  • You could even pay for some of their medical expenses from your health savings account.

Note: This is a brief overview. Family and parental support requirements can be complicated, so consult your tax advisor regarding your situation.

Offer help—and ask for it. Even though you're family, having a parent move into your home can be a big change. Help them acclimate by finding ways to get them active in the community. Consult senior centers, churches, or local libraries for information on programs or classes in which they might be interested. Don't forget to take care of yourself too. If your parent requires more care than you can provide, look into options such as full-time assistant caregivers or part-time respite or companion services.

Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: How to take care of aging parents and yourself

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