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Should You Have a Personal Care Agreement to Care for Mom?

About 40 million people are helping to care for older relatives and friends. Some leave their jobs to do so, and some end up as live-in caregivers. All give up much of their personal freedom. Should they be paid for their work?

The answer is not so simple. Families often expect to care for relatives, thinking that it is part of their duty as a daughter or son, niece or nephew. That does make sense, says AARP Bulletin’s article “Creating a Personal Care Agreement as a Family Caregiver,” if the amount of care is a few hours here and there, or paying a bill or running an errand or two.

However, what happens when a parent needs far more intensive care, like having their meals prepared, monitoring medications and help with daily activities of life like bathing, getting dressed and walking within the home?

It costs about $170 per shift for home maker or health aid services. Few of us are able to write that check.

Some children move in with their parents in an effort to make caring for them easier. That’s when the pay issue often arises. The caregiver may have to give up opportunities for their career, Social Security earnings and the chance to add to their own retirement savings. When the parent dies, the caregiver may find themselves without a home or a job. In this case, payment of some kind seems fair. That may also be true for adult children who take an ailing parent into their home.

The problem is, older people with limited income may not have the ability to pay for home care. There are public programs to pay for caregivers, including a family member, although not a spouse. Every state has different programs. Some long-term care insurance policies may cover a portion of home care costs. If these options are not available, then the family may have to decide whether to pay.

Here is one scenario where things go wrong fast: a daughter moves into her mother’s house, who pays her without discussing it with any other members of the family. When siblings find out, there’s a big family fight. If there is no written agreement, the payments may be considered gifts from Medicaid’s perspective, and could delay a parent’s eligibility for nursing home coverage.

The best option is to have a financial agreement in place. The questions to consider include: 

  • Should the room and board be included as part of compensation, if the person is living with the aging parent?
  • Will the family pay for the caregiver’s health insurance?
  • Should there be time off for the sibling who takes the parent into their home?
  • What can the other siblings do to help?

The paid caregiver family member is an employee of the parent, and their income needs to be reported as taxable. The parent may need to file paperwork and pay employer taxes or hire a company that can manage the bookkeeping. The use of a contract and forms may feel overwhelming at first, but there will be many difficulties in the future avoided by doing this right the first time.

Reference: AARP Bulletin (March 5, 2019) “Creating a Personal Care Agreement as a Family Caregiver”

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