Aging Options

A Family Caregiver Contract Can Prevent Conflict, but Getting it Right May Require Professional Guidance

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If you’re searching for the best person to provide in-home care for an aging loved one, you may have a family member in mind – a sibling, adult grandchild, or other relative who you can trust to provide the kind of care your loved one deserves. Maybe you’re the one tapped to be the caregiver. No matter what the situation, as we have unfortunately seen countless times in our AgingOptions practice, these arrangements often start out well but too soon degenerate into misunderstanding and family fights. The caregiver may come to feel unappreciated while the rest of the family thinks the caregiver is getting preferential treatment. These kinds of disagreements left to fester can literally tear families apart.

Because we understand so well the issues involved in this type of family care situation, we found our attention drawn to this insightful article from the Kiplinger website.  The advice from this recent article: if you are in a situation where you or some other family member has primary caregiving responsibilities for a housebound loved one, you should consider drawing up a family caregiver contract. These contracts, says Kiplinger, can range from informal agreements to complex legal documents. But as you’ll see, while we support the concept, we were surprised that the Kiplinger article doesn’t do a stronger job of recommending when you should consult an attorney. We’ll discuss that more in a moment.

As the Kiplinger article explains, “Family caregiver contracts, also called personal care agreements, range from informal…to complex professional contracts drawn up by lawyers.” These documents, says Kiplinger, are typically created “when one relative is handling most of the care for an elderly parent. A contract enables family members to spell out payment, a work schedule and expected duties.”  The idea is that, by clarifying expectations, a family caregiver contract can avoid misunderstanding and, at least in theory, get family members all on the same page when it comes to a loved one’s care.

There’s another important facet of caregiving that needs to be spelled out in these contracts, writes Kiplinger: compensation. Signing a family caregiver contract allows families to “formalize the compensation for a relative who is making financial sacrifices to provide care.” It’s common for family members serving as caregivers to cut back on their works hours or even stop working altogether in order to be available for their duties. On top of this loss in income, primary caregivers typically incur out-of-pocket expenses that are too often unaccounted for, expenses of which other family members may be completely unaware. (A 2016 study by AARP estimated the average annual out-of-pocket costs for a family caregiver at $7,000.) On the positive side, the family member providing primary care may be living in the relative’s home rent free, something that a family caregiver contract can take into account.

So let’s say you decide to follow Kiplinger’s advice and sit down to draw up a family caregiver contract. This is often where things can become difficult.  “Sometimes,” says Kiplinger, “drawing up a contract stirs up emotions tied to sibling rivalries and past disputes. Non-caregiving family members may resent paying a relative whom they see as living rent-free in a parent’s house.” Another major problem is procrastination: “families often don’t draw up contracts until a crisis arises,” warns Kiplinger, which means you’ll be trying to negotiate caregiver arrangements under extreme emotional pressure – a recipe for major family problems and potentially disastrous divisions.

Here’s where we have a problem with Kiplinger’s advice. The article suggests you call a family meeting to discuss the contract. “Set an agenda, and keep it narrowly focused,” the article says, and make it clear from the outset that this is “a business meeting and not a therapy session.” Kiplinger goes into detail about some of the items that belong in the contract: starting date, work schedule and payment details, for example. This is all well and good as far as it goes, but in our experience it’s the rare family that can sit down for this type of emotionally charged and finance-driven conversation without having an attorney present. At AgingOptions we conduct this type of family meeting frequently, and we guarantee that our professional legal staff will come up with questions and issues you had never dreamed of. An objective third party can also serve as referee when and if things get testy. Having a professional meeting with your family helps ensure a positive, productive outcome.

No matter what issues your family is facing, a family conference hosted by AgingOptions is an excellent way to minimize future problems and maximize cooperation.  Contact us here at AgingOptions and let us explain how this type of conference works. And when it comes to retirement planning in general, AgingOptions is your number one resource for creating a plan that’s truly comprehensive. Besides dealing with family issues – something too often overlooked in retirement planning – we also take housing choices, legal issues, financial protection and medical coverage into account, making certain that all these facets of retirement work together seamlessly.  There’s no other retirement plan we know of that accomplishes what an AgingOptions LifePlan can do for you.

There’s a quick and easy way to find out more: take just a few hours and attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. In fact, why not bring your family members with you so you can all get the same excellent information? These highly popular events are offered at locations throughout the region, so click here for dates, times and locations, then register online or by phone during the week.

Conflicts, confusion and family quarrels don’t have to be part of your retirement future. Chart a course to the retirement you’ve always hoped for with the help of an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at

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