Is Your Elderly Parent Moving In? It Might Cost You

Decisions about providing care for an aging parent are by no means easy — or cheap. Make it easier by asking some key questions and discussing them with your parents ahead of time

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Many people my age struggle with the best way to care for their aging parents — and my husband and I are no exception. My friends, colleagues and I all agonize as we debate whether our parent(s) should move in with us or enter an assisted-living facility or nursing home. These are complex decisions that have emotional, physical and financial costs — and no easy answers.

My mother is healthy now, but one fact is clear: if she moves into our three-story home someday, we’ll need to make some changes to our house. And while we would welcome her company, making our home easy for her to get around in could be very expensive.

Recently, my husband and I decided to speak candidly with my mom about her own plans for the future. We were motivated to broach the issue after talking to my friend Victoria, who went through a similar experience with her mother. Victoria’s elderly mom moved in with her after her father’s death, but in order to care for her — Victoria’s mom was wheelchair bound and needed assistance with some daily activities — Victoria had to remodel her home.

(MORE: When Dementia Derails Your Parent’s Finances)

Victoria made the smart decision to do some advance planning together with her parents, talking about options and putting a plan in place, even before her father died. That made the financial aspects of remodeling her home and caring for her mother a lot easier. After Victoria’s father died, she and her mom sold her parents’ home as they had decided. They then used the proceeds to add a bedroom and a bathroom to the main floor of Victoria’s house.

Victoria’s mother lived with her family for six years before she passed away, and they treasure the experience. Victoria reflects that “one of the nicest things we could offer our son was to have time with his grandmother — and it was a joy to her.” She says remodeling their home to make a room for her mother was one of the best decisions they made.

But it wasn’t always easy. The amount of care Victoria’s mother needed increased over time and proved challenging. Chasing after her toddler consumed much of Victoria’s energy, and caring for her mother was often just as exhausting. Navigating Medicare and understanding her mother’s medical needs was complicated and taxing. But as she watched her other friends make tough decisions for their elderly parents, Victoria was grateful for the preparations her family had made in advance.

(MORE: Alternatives to the Nursing Home for Aging or Ailing Parents)

Victoria’s experience inspired me to ask more questions about what my husband and I — and all families in similar situations — might need to consider. Here are some of the essentials:

What are my parent’s plans and desires?
It can be tough to talk to our “silent generation” parents about money. But if we’re going to care for them in the future, having an idea of their financial situation and desires for medical care will save time and headaches. Victoria’s parents had good insurance and some assets in place, which made her circumstance easier. But even better, she and her parents made many decisions together, and she knew she was carrying out their wishes — which was important to everyone.

Do I need to add on, remodel or just renovate?
If a parent is going to move into your home, it’s crucial to consider these three things: privacy, care and safety issues. Ask yourself if you need a major overhaul, or if minor changes will suffice. Is there outside access to your parent’s room? Is it wheelchair accessible? Do the bathrooms have handicapped-accessible toilets, showers and tubs with grab bars? Research the costs well in advance so you won’t be reeling with sticker shock if your parent needs to move in on short notice.

What kind of insurance coverage do my parents have?
In addition to understanding your parent’s financial reality, it’s critical that you talk to your parents about their insurance coverage. Do they have long-term care insurance? What’s covered? What Medicare or Medicaid coverage do they have in place? Determine how your parent’s medical costs will be paid, and speak with them about where the funds might come from if extra costs accrue beyond what insurance covers.

What will this cost me?
It’s imperative to do some research before helping your parent decide what may be the best living arrangement physically, emotionally and financially. If your parent wants to stay in their own home, recognize what the long-term cost might be of hiring an in-home caregiver. It can vary greatly depending on where you live. The amount paid by insurance for different arrangements also varies depending on the type and amount of coverage.

Don’t assume that the lowest cost option will be providing care yourself. A recent survey by indicated that an estimated 34 million Americans are personally providing care for older family members, and that 34% of those caregivers are spending $300 or more a month of their own money. Consider how this may affect your financial obligations and goals, and plan accordingly.

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As for my own mother, she said she would like to stay in her own home and live independently as long as possible. But we’re all feeling more prepared to face whatever the future may bring because we’ve had — and continue to have — these discussions. If you’ve faced a similar situation, what tips or advice would you offer others? Tell us in the comments below.

De Baca is vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial. See more of her health and money columns here.