You may have an older client who has an adult child living in their home. We are not talking about co-housing or multi-generational households folks choose for a variety of sensible reasons. This is not about the daughter who gives up work to move in and take care of your aging client. Rather, this is a somewhat hidden population of adult children who have never quite been able to support themselves.

There may be a mental health issue, substance abuse or other condition which impairs the individual’s ability to reliably earn a living. Some of these adults have never succeeded in the workplace. Others have had a setback of some kind and never were able to regain or keep employment afterward. These adult children of your clients may be middle aged, yet dependent on your client for the basics of life: food, clothing and shelter as well as other benefits.

At AgingInvestor.com, we hear from the families, usually the siblings of the adult child who does work yet who receives free lodging and support from the parent. The common thread is a co-dependent relationship between parent and the “problematic” adult child. The parents may feel guilty about the unsuccessful child, they may be intimidated by that offspring or they simply may lack the courage to insist on some other arrangement. You may be thinking, ok, so what’s the problem? My client is fine. She has good income. She can do what she wants with it.

Don’t draw that conclusion so fast. People are living longer than ever and as clients live on, they may need to liquidate some things to cover their increasing care needs. The family home is one of the things that can be liquidated, especially when assisted living is a better place for an elder client who can’t live alone anymore.

The family may agree that your client’s home must be sold to raise cash to meet caregiving needs. No one knows what to do with the sibling still living at that home. They won’t move out.

Without addressing the issue in advance, this can get ugly. We have seen in the last year alone, several families who were involved in formal legal evictions of the dependent sibling who refused to leave the home. Would your client want that? In other instances, there is a nasty, expensive probate fight going on over the sibling refusing to leave the home even after the parent passes away. The inheritance is held up because the house can’t go on the market.

Isn’t planning for the future your job? These very unpleasant scenes can be avoided with good strategy initiated by you with your aging clients, about the future of that unemployed adult child who has no plan for what to do next. The family needs to explore every option for the needy sibling. Can he or she qualify for public benefits, such as disability or government-subsidized housing? Do the parents have the means to set up a trust to provide for his or her basic needs? Is there any other option for support? Delving into these things takes time. The social services system can be complicated. The time to start talking with your client about her unsuccessful 55 year old son at home is not on the eve of a crisis. The client who has allowed the situation to go on must be persuaded to make a change before that crisis. No one wants to look at this issue but it can only lead to bad outcomes if it is not explored.

Here are three things you can do now:

1. Find out from any aging client if he or she is supporting anyone. That’s basic. Then get more detail. How long has the unemployed middle aged daughter been living in your client’s home? What will happen to her when/if your client has to leave her home or sell it?

2.  Connect with your client’s estate planning attorney, with permission of course, and see what planning is done for an heir who is not working and does not have a retirement plan herself.  Has your client provided for this need? Is your client’s cash going to be tapped for supporting an adult child? Has a trust been set up and what does it allow for your client to do for the adult child and when?

3.  Get advice yourself about what options your client’s adult child may have, should your client become impaired and unable to give her offspring support in the home. The county’s department of health services and department of social services as well as nonprofit community service agencies are good places to start. Encourage your client to think it through and not burden any other children with an eviction case or probate mess in the future.

By Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder Law Attorney, & Dr. Mikol Davis, Gerontologist co-founder of AgingInvestor.com

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