"Care For Life" Agreements - How Well Do They Work?

In recent years we've seen a significant increase in the number of “care for life” agreements. This article is meant to highlight some of the potential and actual problems that occur with this kind of family arrangement.

The typical scenario (which is an actual fact pattern of a recent case) is this:

Edith is an elderly widow, living alone in the large family home she has lived in for 40 years. Overwhelmed by the upkeep and maintenance, she is considering downsizing or moving into a retirement home.

John, the adult child, is married with children and is unable to buy into the local housing market.

Edith and John talk about them all living together under one roof.

Edith transfers the property to John; John and his family move into the home on the understanding that the Edith will live with John and his family and be cared for for the rest of her days.

Within a year Edith and John’s wife are not getting along and John suggests Edith should move into a retirement facility. Edith has only a small pension and cannot afford a retirement home.   

Problems with Care for Life Agreements

Rarely will these arrangements be reduced to writing as both the senior and the caregiver have the best of intentions.

How does this arrangement help the senior?

The senior often sees this arrangement as a solution:

  • To loneliness
  • Allows her to stay in her home
  • Is security for life, and
  • Looks forward to a life surrounded by her immediate family

How does this arrangement help the caregiver?

Conversely, the caregiver sees the arrangements as:

  • An opportunity to enter the (often unattainable) housing market
  • A solution to taking care of an elderly parent
  • A perfect arrangement for both parties!! Until something starts to go wrong!!

So What Expectation Should be Discussed?

Expectations are rarely discussed, however they should; issues such as:

  • Unforeseen medical problems
  • Depression and incompatibility often start to surface and can lead to a complete breakdown of the relationship between the parties
  • Divorce or separation of the caregiver can lead to the property being sold and the senior being homeless and destitute, not to mention completely devastated

Unfortunately, because these informal agreements are so rarely documented, with neither party having any legal advice, when the relationship breaks down the result can be devastating to both parties. However, as we have seen, the consequences can leave the senior extremely vulnerable and especially serious.

A Proper Agreement and Legal Advice is Essential 

If you are a senior (or an adult child of a senior) and are considering a “care for life” agreement, a carefully drafted agreement and proper legal advice can often provide better protection for both the senior and the adult child.

In addition, a carefully drafted agreement can help minimize future family conflict in the event the relationship does breakdown.   

Our experienced and compassionate lawyers understand the legal issues that often rise from this type of agreement. We can help you make the right choices and protect your interests. Call one of our lawyers who practice in the area of Elder Law.