Hi, Helaine: I’ve been living with my elderly parent for two years. It wasn’t intentional. It’s a voluntary choice that became an entrapment. My sister wanted my dad to move into assisted living. It was an expensive disaster, close to $10,000 a month. After that, I took a year off paid work to get his life settled -- taking care of hospitalizations, rehab, and an aging house that needed repairs (something I supervised). We’ve since hired a weekday helper, and I am working part-time. But my sibling -- married with kids -- isn’t very involved. We will both inherit the estate and home. She’s promised to “make me whole” based on money I’ve expended for caregiving, but it’s beginning to feel burdensome and unfair.
I don’t want to get into a fight over assets, yet it doesn’t feel quite right that I’ve taken time from my career, and continue to live a sort of half-life, and I’m not making a full-time salary. That’s money not going toward retirement at an age when once again getting the kind of well-paid job I once had isn’t easy. Essentially, I am the replacement for the pricey old-folks home. How do I have this conversation? -- A Very Tired Caretaker
Dear Very Tired Caretaker: This is how life happens. You make one decision, and then another, and then another. They all seem like the right one at the time, but no one involved realizes the full-on consequences. Two years later, you are serving as an unpaid caretaker, dependent on your sister’s ethics and honor to be compensated when it’s all over.
You absolutely need to have this conversation, and sooner rather than later. The typical female caretaker for an older relative will lose more than $300,000 in lifetime earnings. One solution seems rather obvious: Your father -- or whomever is in charge of his financial affairs -- should pay you for your services in real time. You could do this via a caregiver agreement, something an eldercare lawyer could help you structure.
So how to proceed? I suggest you get all your financials in order -- how much money you are losing monthly helping out, and the long-term consequences of it, such as retirement savings and Social Security payments, and what you believe you need to be compensated for on a monthly basis as well as what your services are saving over, say, an assisted living or nursing home placement. Then send your sister a note saying you need to have a sit-down to address the financial aspects of the situation at her convenience but in the near future. There’s no way to make this easy, but it needs to be done.
And, finally, a word of caution, and one I hate to issue: If your sister is resistant to addressing the issue now, you might take that as a warning for how well you’ll be made “whole” by her after your dad passes. I will also remind you that what you are doing is wonderful, but if you cannot do it any longer and decide to once again look at assisted living for your dad, you are still a good person.
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