As people age, sometimes they are more willing to overlook what needs fixing at home. Maybe it feels like too much to vet contractors, or get bids. One gentleman in his 80’s comments at AgingParents.com, “I’ll just let my kids take care of it. I’ll probably be gone in five years”. Is that fair?
We think not. Here’s how far it can go.
The “Can’t Be Bothered” Attitude
Carter and Sybil, both in their mid-80s, have lived in their home for over 50 years. They raised their kids there. They host family gatherings there with adult children and grandkids. They are quite comfortable financially and could afford whatever they need. No one noticed what was going on behind the walls. When the lights were hard to turn on and flickered a lot, no one seemed to consider that there could be a problem needing repair. After 30+ years, Carter decided to get a new roof, as a neighbor was re-roofing his. When the contractors did the job, Sybil asked them to look at damage to the ceiling in several places inside, caused by roof leaks. When they got inside the walls, they found a massive problem—rat infestation.
Rats had chewed through wires, causing sparking at times. No one noticed?? This was a fire waiting to happen. Rats were in the basement where Sybil threw piles of cardboard from package deliveries. Junk had piled up also, creating a ready fire hazard. Fifteen workers spent days, together with one of Carter and Sybil’s daughters, de-junking, throwing out ruined parts, and preparing for the exterminators. The dump fees reached $1000. The ultimate cost of repairs in the expensive home will reach nearly $200,000. Is it right to “just let the kids take care of it”?
Yes the kids will inherit this valuable home, but unrepaired, it would be a huge burden on them. They are raising their own kids, working and tending to their own lives. Having to do major re-construction on their parents’ home when their parents were capable of doing so while living in it would cause deep resentment. Never mind that it is also unsafe for their aging parents to live in the deteriorating home for however many years remain in their lives.
We are finding that this scenario is not uncommon. At AgingParents.com where we advise families with aging loved ones, we continue to hear these real stories. All too often, our clients, the adult children of these elders, tell us that their parents’ home is “a giant mess”, or “totally neglected for years”.
In another case, the Dad bought his expensive duplex in 1962. He never repaired his wood decks and continued to rent out the unit he did not live in. Now the tenants are complaining to his son, who is in charge of 99 year old Dad’s affairs. It was not just his own decks, full of wood rot, that needed fixing. The tenants’ deck was falling apart too. The furnace and other appliances had never been replaced. A door is falling in. In short, the place is in need of major, expensive repairs, just at the same time Dad’s cost of caregiving is depleting his cash, all his savings and investments. It’s driving his son nuts and he is angry with his Dad for the neglect.
Can adult children do anything to prevent these messes?
Yes, they can and here are the takeaways:
- Ask your aging parents about home maintenance if they’ve lived in the home for many years. For example, when was it last re-roofed? Does the furnace function well, etc. Get a clear idea of the cost to fix what needs fixing.
- Ask about any problems they have with anything in the house, such as plumbing, electrical, leaks, etc. We were astonished to hear that Carter and Sybil’s adult children never noticed anything about the massive rat infestation. Rats make noise, they smell and they leave signs of their presence!
- Offer to help if things need fixing. You, the adult child may be more adept at finding a contractor, getting bids and seeing that things get done appropriately. If your aging loved ones are a little befuddled or too slow about home repairs, step in. You may need to take leadership.
- The burden of inheriting a house in serious disrepair will fall on the heirs. That might not be what the kids were expecting. It is better to get things done while aging parents actually live there rather than trying to do major work after they’re gone. For heirs, exploring this issue of the condition of your parents’ home now could make your life far easier down the road.
- Neglect now can cost you, the heirs, later. When no one has the time to do all the deferred maintenance on the parents’ home and they pass, the home has far less value if it is in disrepair. If heirs have no time nor willingness to step in and fix it up, it will lose substantial value when it is put up for sale. Likewise, if you want to generate income from the home to help pay for expensive care parents need at a seniors’ community for the remainder of their lives, it may not be rentable until it is fixed up.
Sometimes it’s all about communication and facing the discomfort of difficult subjects. Taking leadership about home maintenance can save all involved from a lot of unnecessary stress.
Is it difficult to talk about this with your aging parents or loved ones? We can help you devise a strategy, pick the right words and the right approach to get you through it. Get distress relieving advice at AgingParents.com. Call for an appointment today at 866-962-4464
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, AgingParents.com