Make room for the parents

Adam Sherban charges his parents the same rent they charged him over 20 years ago, when, as a young adult and struggling rock musician, he lived at home.

Ed and Anne Sherban decided to take up Adam’s offer to live with him, his wife, Lorri, and their two children, Sarah and Steven, after a couple of health setbacks made upkeep of their three-storey house difficult.

Although this type of co-residence is not unusual for certain cultures, in general, living with adult children is not a popular housing option for older Canadians.

Make expectations clear
When it does happen, declining ability to manage personal care is the main reason, according to Joan Norris. She’s a psychologist and professor in the department of family relations and applied nutrition at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Financial needs rank well below.

But whatever the circumstance, there must be a clear understanding of expectations for co-residency to be successful.

Financial and other obligations should be spelled out, says Judith Wahl, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (ACE) in Toronto.

“I always encourage family memberto work out the arrangements between each other as though they were not relatives,” she says.

Written record helpful
This is crucial because people can make vastly different assumptions about, for instance, shared housework and day-to-day costs.

Although many families are reluctant to go to the expense and trouble of drawing up a legal document – and indeed, most don’t need one – even a letter or other written record can be helpful.

“If things go south and you don’t have a document, you don’t have anything to refer to in terms of the original intent,” says sociologist Joseph Tindale, who chairs the department of family relations and applied nutrition at the University of Guelph.

“The alternative is good, transparent communication.” 

Next page: Sharing the costs

Sharing the costs
The previous owners of the Sherban’s house were nuns, who had used the basement space as a chapel. Lorri and Adam had planned to create a recreation room out of the open and largely unfinished space. But, with Ed and Anne moving in, these plans would have to be adapted.

An architect and designer was consulted and the older Sherbans were instrumental in planning the renovation to include a kitchen, two bathrooms (one ensuite), one bedroom, a bay window and glass-block walls for maximum light, and a separate entrance that opens to the patio and garden.

The upfront costs were easy to divide.

“We paid for what we were going to do anyway in making a family room,” says Adam.

Ed and Anne paid for the extras that transformed the space into a one-bedroom, self-contained apartment. An added benefit: the space could become an income-generating rental apartment down the road.

Everyday costs considered
“There’s always a cost to the person whose home is being shared,” says Tindale.

But contrary to expectations, everyday costs often prove more significant than what may seem to be larger financial issues.

“For some people, it may be important to have a formal agreement, particularly if there are considerable financial assets involved, such as joint ownership of a home,” says Joan Norris.

“But that’s not as common as deciding whether Dad is going to contribute to the groceries every week or be a traditional tenant and pay rent.”

The rent paid by parents Ed and Anne Sherban is a nominal amount that goes toward household expenses, including utility bills-some of which increased with the expanded household while others have gone up because of inflation.

Says Adam, “How much can you ask from your parents after all they’ve put up with from you?”

As for the tenants, “We increase our rent whenever he cries poverty,” quips Anne.

Next page: Space and privacy

Space and privacy
Both couples agree that maintaining separate household accounts is important. But some costs, such as electricity and heating, would have been expensive and inconvenient to separate.

Anne and Ed buy their own groceries and have a separate phone line.

“We call each other a lot,” laughs Lorri about her in-laws-and have an unspoken agreement to give each other space and privacy.

Even so, the shared laundry room enables Anne to help out when the younger family is especially busy, while 13-year-old Sarah is thrilled to help care for her grandparents’ five cats.

Shared meals have become an enjoyable and important part of family life.

Non-monetary contributions
Call it love or filial obligation, mutual support is a natural part of a healthy parent-child relationship.

 “Children want to help their parents and generally do so to the best of their ability and resources,” says Joan Norris.

(Though they are very rare, Tindale says there have been cases of a parent suing an adult child for financial support. “The question the court asks is: ‘Did the parents provide support to the child in a responsible and adequate way?'” If yes, says Tindale, most family law in Canada allows that the child – as long as he or she is not financially destitute – now must reciprocate and support the aging parent.)

Along with financial and physical comfort, emotional considerations play a large part in familial support. From this perspective, the benefits of home sharing may be immeasurable.

At a vibrant and energetic 72 years, Anne is happy to spend more time with her grandchildren, while Ed and Adam enjoy watching televised sports together.

Lorri now sees more of Adam’s brothers and sisters, as well as her own parents, who have become fast friends of the older Sherbans. Already, solid family relations have grown stronger with co-residence.

“We had no hesitation about moving in,” says Ed. “We knew we could make it work.”

Making formal agreements
While the Sherbans don’t feel it necessary to have an official agreement, other families prefer formal safeguards. For instance, one daughter in a similar arrangement specified in her will that her parents would be beneficiaries of the amount they contributed to the renovations, should anything happen to her.

In any event, a housing change presents a natural opportunity to ensure your financial affairs are in order.

With savings accounts and retirement pensions, as well as proceeds from the sale of the family home, a parent’s assets can be substantial when a move takes place, says Tindale.

Considerations might include powers of attorney (to designate who will make health and financial decisions should you become mentally incapable) as well as an up-to-date will that reflects your current situation and wishes.

Other financial decisions
This is not to say that your housing situation should govern your financial decisions – it definitely shouldn’t.

For instance, “you might move in with an adult child and not turn over power of attorney,” says Tindale. “They may well go hand in hand, or they might not.”

Under any circumstances, handing someone authority to make decisions concerning your health and finances should be carefully thought out.

The Advocacy Centre’s Wahl stresses that, while convenience may encourage some live-in parents to give financial authority to their offspring, this is not a given.

The key, she says, is “setting up a good arrangement, preventing it from deteriorating and financial abuse from occurring.”