Taking in aging parents can take toll on finances, emotions

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

How would you feel if Mom and Dad became your roommates?

For some families, it's a reality as they give shelter to financially struggling parents or ill parents who can no longer care for themselves.

But as much as you may want to repay your parents for their care of you, you have to look at the financial and emotional ramifications of taking them in.

“Parents are in the habit of taking care of their children,” said Rick Salmeron, certified financial planner at the Salmeron Financial Network. “The flow of wealth from older to younger generation feels natural to many.”

But changing demographics is making the reverse more common.

“We are living so much longer now,” Salmeron said. “The older generation may be running out of savings, or may be mentally or physically unable to tend for themselves. The younger generation had better do more thinking about possible new roommates — their parents — and how they might prepare themselves.”

Here are the areas you need to look at:

The costs: “When considering having a parent come live with you, there are direct costs and indirect costs,” said Tom Murphy, certified financial planner at Murphy & Sylvestin Dallas.

Direct costs include groceries, household supplies and dining out. Indirect costs can include increased utility bills, higher auto insurance rates if the parent is still driving, and more laundry, hobby or activity costs of the parent, he said.

“Adding one person to a home with two will increase these variable expenses by an average of 23 percent, according to U.S. Census figures,” Murphy said.

For example, if you and your spouse spend $2,000 a month for food, utilities and other non-fixed expenses and one parent comes to live with you, you can expect your costs to increase to about $2,460, Murphy said.

Having both parents live with you increases costs by about 42 percent, he said.

Neither situation includes increased health care costs unique to an elderly parent, nor do they include assisted living costs in the home.

Sharing the burden: “Parents, if financially feasible, may want to contribute to the household,” said Jean Keener, certified financial planner at Keener Financial Planning in Keller, Texas. “Discussing arrangements to help with utilities or other costs helps facilitate this.”

When Deb Sears bought a home in 1995, it was more than what she wanted to care for by herself, so she moved her elderly parents in with her.

“It was a good opportunity for me to get them in a better place because their business had closed and I wanted the help,” said Sears, 53, of Flower Mound, Texas.

The transition wasn't financially difficult for her because within a year, Sears got a promotion and pay raise.

“I was making enough money and they were starting to get Social Security,” she said. “I was able to help them retire so they didn't have to go and find other jobs.”

Today, things are different. Sears' father has died, and she was laid off from her job as an information technology manager in 2004.

Sears and her 81-year-old mother now are moving from their home to a two-bedroom apartment to ease the burdens of a house payment and the upkeep of the home.

“We greatly have reduced our spending,” said Sears, who's living off her savings and investments.

Tax implications: Under certain limited circumstances, you might be able to claim your parents as dependents on your tax return, said James Smith, CPA at Smith, Jackson, Boyer & Bovard in Dallas. You might be able to deduct medical expenses that you paid for your parents.

If you charge your parents rent, you would have to recognize the rent as income in your tax return, but then you could claim a depreciation deduction for a portion of the cost of your home, as well as a portion of the utilities and any general repairs to the property, Smith said.

If you don't charge your parents rent, the free room and board would be treated as a gift, but because the total rent value probably would not exceed the annual gift exclusion — $14,000 for 2013 — you wouldn't have to report the gift to the Internal Revenue Service, he said.

Emotional response: Are you prepared to deal with the emotional aspects?

“Be prepared to adjust your expectations of what they remember and what they don't remember,” Sears said. “Don't get mad because they forget things; just be patient.”

Pamela Yip is a personal finance columnist for the Dallas Morning News.

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