Elderly Mother and Her Caregiver DaughterEven in the closest, most loving families, there can be disagreement about how an elderly parent should be cared for. The parent may want to stay in their home, but the children may see that that’s impossible without someone in the home to take care of them. Hiring a private in-home caregiver may be an option for some people, but it is very expensive and not possible for everyone. However, a family member who is capable, willing, and available to be the caregiver can be a good option IF the family establishes some ground rules and takes some important legal steps first.

Family Caregivers Are the Norm Across the Country

In the U.S., it is estimated that there are over 40 million unpaid caregivers of adults over the age of 65. Ninety percent of these caregivers are caring for relatives, most commonly a parent. Sometimes, this arrangement comes about gradually as an adult child transitions from checking in each day, driving the parent to appointments, and setting up their weekly pill dispenser to becoming the primary caregiver. Other times, there is a conscious decision among the children to choose a family member to become the caregiver. Either way, it is important to make the arrangement official and to take care of some legal paperwork as early as possible to protect not only the elderly person but the caregiver and other children as well.

Choosing a Family Caregiver

The family member who agrees to become the primary caregiver should make sure that they can truly afford to do it. If they have to quit a job in order to care for their parent, can they live without the income? If they have to retire early to take on the responsibility, will that affect their income later on? Will they lose Social Security income because of it? Are they still raising their own children or paying college tuition? These questions need to be answered before the commitment is made, no matter how much the person wants to be there for the parent who needs them. If it just doesn’t make financial sense, another option should be considered.

The Family Caregiver Should Be Paid a Salary

Yes, you read that right! It may seem counterintuitive—and just plain awkward—to pay your adult child to take care of you, but it makes sense for a lot of reasons. First, caring for an elderly person who may have dementia and multiple physical issues is difficult work, and the person providing that care should be compensated. Benefits of paying a family member include:

  • Taking advantage of available federal funds. There are state-managed federal programs in both Texas and Arkansas that pay for in-home care for eligible seniors, and both programs allow the elderly individual to hire a family member. The hourly rate and hours per week are limited, but it will provide some income to the caregiver.
  • It may open up VA benefits. If the parent is a wartime Veteran or spouse of a Veteran and is disabled, they may be able to qualify for Aid and Attendance benefits by paying a caregiver. This is considered an unreimbursed medical expense and could help them meet eligibility requirements for these benefits.
  • It can help you qualify for Medicaid. Despite the caregiver’s best efforts, the senior may one day need a nursing home. If she has too many assets, however, she will not be able to qualify for Medicaid to pay for the nursing home. Paying a caregiver is a legal way to spend down assets in the years leading up to applying for Medicaid.
  • It can ease tensions with siblings. If the senior has several children, but only one is willing and able to be the caregiver, paying that child can make things more equitable among the siblings. The caregiver may be less likely to resent her siblings, and the siblings may feel less guilty.

An Elder Law attorney can help you identify the various programs your parent may be eligible for to help pay the family caregiver.

Important Legal Documents You Need to Sign

Talking to a lawyer and getting some sound advice early on is the smartest thing you can do. In order to take advantage of some of the programs we have mentioned, you will need to sign a caregiver’s contract that meets certain requirements. The pay you receive must be the “going rate” for unskilled, in-home care, and you will have to pay certain taxes and Social Security.

If you are the non-caregiver child but want to stay involved in your parent’s care, you should be included on any HIIPPA releases and powers of attorney so that the caregiver can’t shut you out of your parent’s medical decisions.

The Team at Ross & Shoalmire Has Seen it All

Trust us—if you have a question or concern about caring for an elderly family member, we’ve probably seen it before, and we can help. We understand the options that are available, and we know what can go wrong when all the bases aren’t covered. Call us to discuss your plan for in-home care today.

John K. Ross IV
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John K. Ross helps clients in Texas and Arkansas with all matters of Elder Law including estate planning.