Should Dad Hire You?

Elderly Mom, who takes care of Elderly Dad, unexpectedly dies. Dad is on his own now, and suffers from infirmities which require assistance with living, but claims he’ll “manage” in his split-level suburban home. He has a generous pension income so financially he can afford to live in that home and, if need be, hire in-home care services to assist him (although he won’t because it’s a “waste of money”).

One of his children (that’s you) is currently unemployed and cannot find work. He or she is willing to help take care of Dad. Should you, as the offspring in question, do it in exchange for compensation from your parent?

These types of arrangements may at first glance seem tempting. The adult child is, after all, part of the family. Wouldn’t it be better to pay such money to someone within the family? The reciprocal needs match up pretty well. What the heck, you figure, why not?

All Things Considered

Now is the time to stop take a breath, and seriously look at the following issues:

Consider the emotions involved

How was your past relationship with your parent? If it was anything short of mutually loving and nurturing, think twice or maybe even three times before you agree. Old family wounds, grudges, and grievances rarely go away, they just hide under the surface. In the case where the caregiver roles are now reversed, old grievances can easily come to the surface again. Never confuse the sense of togetherness you feel upon the death of a parent with true reconciliation of all the petty differences that can exist among family members, including those that exist between you and your surviving parent.

What does your family think?

Are you married, with young children? An empty nester? If you have young children, my advice is clear: DO NOT DO IT. Caring for both small children and an elderly parent is simply too much. Do not kid yourself into thinking “It won’t be that bad.” It will be THAT bad. If you’re an empty nester, then consider it together with your spouse.

Be prepared to change your definition of success

Taking care of an elder person will be perhaps the first time in your life that you cannot improve a situation through your efforts. The health of an elder person either remains as it is or deteriorates, sometimes gradually and imperceptibly at first. It will require more and more of your emotional resources. The swelling in legs doesn’t recede. Wounds don’t heal. Doctors’ orders are not followed. If you are a person who likes to see positive results from your efforts, apart from any financial rewards, prepare yourself for a paradigm shift. Think, “what would Sisyphus do?”

Determine what constitutes a good job, and build-in some performance incentive

In the regular work world, we work not just to get this week’s paycheck, but also to build a future. You work for that bonus; you exercise thrift in your expenses to save for the future. The same holds true for this job. Caring for an elder person can go on for months, or years. Be sure you have some definition of what constitutes a job well done, and build in financial rewards when you achieve it. If you are managing the grocery budget, it might be something as simple as going under budget. Agree that you will receive 50 percent of the savings as a bonus. You’ll be glad you did.

Get paid a market rate

Also be sure that you are paid market rates for what you do. Find out what third parties are getting for that type of service, and get at least that much for yourself. Remember, some of your services, if they qualify as medical services, might be deductible for tax purposes by your father, even if you are not a certified medical professional. Check with your tax adviser for details.

Get your siblings involved

The same emotional triggers between parent and child hold true as among siblings. Get any and all siblings or other stakeholders to sign off on everything you do.

Be accountable

If you are managing your parent’s finances, get a local CPA firm to audit the process periodically, and opine on it in a professional way. This may sound a bit extravagant, but it will pay off. Getting a CPA will minimize quarrels among family members later. Everyone who has gone through the process of taking care of an elder person knows that there is a gray area between the legal state of compis mentis and non-compis mentis. Third party verification will help assure all that your parent’s affairs were properly administered in those twilight periods.

Source: Robert Kopacz operates an internet TV channel offering videos on happenings in and around Madison, NJ.