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Changing a Boomerang Into a Family Circle

Last week’s column on “boomerang kids” described some of the concerns to address before allowing adult kids to move back home because they are in financial trouble. This week let’s take a look at that same topic from a different perspective.

It’s interesting that in today’s world, we tend to assume that if adult children move in with parents, it’s the children who need help and support. In earlier times, combining households was more often a way for children to help their parents.

There’s no reason a multi-generational household can’t become a positive arrangement for everyone. The key is to manage it carefully and consciously. Here are a few potential benefits:

1. Everybody saves money. Combining households can save money for both generations. If parents have more space than they need and adult children need more space than they can afford, pooling resources in one house can make the difference between comfort and just barely scraping by.

2. Help with the heavy lifting. As life expectancy increases and “old age” becomes a lot older than it used to be, parents in their 60’s or 70’s don’t necessarily need physical care and support. Yet having younger adults in the household to help with yard work, housework, and maintenance can be a great help. Also, as parents age, living with adult children can allow them to stay in the family home longer.

3. Flexibility. Grandparents who want to do a lot of traveling in retirement can come and go more freely when someone else is living in the house. A shared household can also free up more financial resources for traveling.

4. One word—grandchildren. Living together can foster close bonds between grandparents and grandchildren. For some families, it can work well for grandparents to provide daycare while parents work. It’s important, however, to make this a clear choice. Just because you’re a loving grandma doesn’t automatically mean you want to take care of the little darlings all day every day. It’s also crucial for all the adults to work together and for the grandparents to support the parents’ child-raising decisions.

5. Closer family relationships. Especially if parents and children have strong, healthy relationships to begin with, sharing a household can provide rich opportunities to enjoy family activities and time together. It’s helpful if both parties can view it as a mutually satisfying agreement between adults rather than having one generation dependent upon the other.

6. Family financial planning. Before deciding to share a household, it’s essential to agree—in writing—on both short-term and long-term financial arrangements.

• One crucial question is who pays what. Bills might be divided up, or both generations might contribute equally or proportionately to a separate account for household bills.

• Another issue to clarify is who owns the house. Parents might retain ownership, kids might inherit the house or buy it over time, ownership might be through joint tenancy or by a separate LLC. It’s important to make this decision in the larger context of the parents’ estate planning in order to be fair to other children.

• It’s a good idea to agree to revisit financial agreements periodically in case they need to be altered over time.

In today’s economic climate, sharing a home has obvious financial benefits. It has the potential for emotional benefits, as well. While the U.S. has moved away from a tradition of multi-generational households, in some other cultures families still tend to share living quarters. It’s an arrangement that can work well when families make a conscious choice to see it as an opportunity for mutual support and satisfaction.

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One Response to Changing a Boomerang Into a Family Circle

  1. Rich Colman November 29, 2010 at 5:16 am #

    There are a few things that caught my eye on this column:
    1) When did children move in with parents and it was assumed that the parents needed help? I cannot remember that nuance. From my memory growing up, it was the reverse, but you could be thinking of something very different.

    2) The costs associated with bringing an older parent to live with the family can be considerable. handicap facilities etc. The more decrepid the parent the less child care can be offered.

    3) multi generational issues such as grandparents not getting along with teenage or younger children.

    4) It seems to me that you may be talking about the 20% of families or less that such an arrangement can work. What do the rest of the people do?