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The longer version: 10 years ago, we sold our house, and Mom sold her house. We pooled our money and together we built a house designed for caring for her. The house is in our name. We charge her a modest amount monthly for utilities and all the routine expenses.

A bit about her: She's 85, legally blind, and has mild cognitive impairment, which is slowly worsening. She is also a scam victim, so my wife has POA. And, she's a low-level hoarder.

Mom is a miser from hell. She will not spend a penny if she can avoid it, and highly resents our charging her "rent". She feels like the amount she put into building the house was enough. I could go on, but the point is, we don't think it's fair to us to keep the house in good order without her financial help. She has no problem with allowing anyone and everyone to pay her way though life. To mooch, in other words! She takes advantage of all the local government subsidized programs, and will not contribute to the cause.

The immediate question concerns adding some paving to our driveway, to allow the van that transports her around town to pull off the side of our street out of the traffic, so she can board safely. I spent my entire summer building a retaining wall to support this new addition. I did all the work, and bought all the materials. We think she should contribute enough to finish the paving now that all the prep work is done. In years past, she would comment about how nice it would be to have a space to pull off the road, and I would say "I'll be glad to do that if you'll help pay for it." You would have thought I asked her to cut off her big toe. We had that short discussion several times, but my wife and I finally agreed it was time to do it as a matter of safety for Mom.

There are always things to do around the house. Things that cost money, and Mom thinks that we should be responsible for all of it. We had several discussions about just this kind of thing before we agreed to live together, and we were satisfied that it would work. We didn't have a contract, didn't know we needed one. Now we do, in hindsight.

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So, she sold her house and the proceeds went to buy a house entirely in your name, where she is allowed to live and pay you rent? I must be missing a key piece of information here. She basically gifted you 6 figures, in exchange for what, your company? You don't say that you provide any caregiving. Legally blind is not totally blind and many people with MCI are able to live independently just fine. What exactly is she receiving for her investment in this house? Based on your ages, I would guess that she is more likely to have had a paid off mortgage than you were. Therefore, it is very possible that she put more money into your new house than you did. If she's receiving public assistance, I would further assume that ALL of her assets have been gifted to you. Isn't that enough? This modification will increase the value of *your home. If you want to pave *your driveway, you should pay for it. Look at what you've already gained and let it go. When you sell, you'll get the benefit of all these improvements. Let that be your payment. From my perspective, you've made out like a bandit.

As an aside, it sounds like you dislike and resent your mother-in-law. Maybe choosing to live together was not the best idea. But if you had stayed separate, you wouldn’t have the proceeds from the sale of her house. Forgive me for thinking it’s a stretch that the house was “designed for caring for her.”

The short answer is "no."
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For everybody's sake, pull all your financial documents together and old legal and make an appointment with an elder law attorney. I'd suggest you & wife go to the first appointment and then the second one with mom.

There are some pretty glaring issues in your past with mom that I'd be concerned about. The combining 2 house proceeds to buy 1 house only in your name makes you look like one who took advantage of an elder. If any of her funds are being commingled with yours (like joint accounts, or her SS or other funds being controlled by you all), that too is going to be an issue. Ditto for her paying you for things without a caregiver contract or living agreement as to what her share to be paid is and how established. If mom should need Medicaid to pay for any services and there is fuzzy math on her resources, Medicaid will rule her ineligible for them to pay till the penalty period is over. At 85, mom could easily be with you another decade plus…….really get good legal advise soon on the situation.

It sounds like mom is still pretty active - like she gets picked up by a van and goes to a senior center? - and participates in community activities. This is great but a lot of staff at senior centers are mandated reporters. If she goes and tells them that "my son & his wife took all my house $ and bought a new house only in their names", you could find yourself speaking with APS.

If mom qualifies for programs and filled out the paperwork accurately then she is entitled to participate. It's not mooching. Whether it's senior day outings, meals on wheels, health screenings, PACE or other programs, if she's eligible and able to go and do, that's terrific for her.
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Yes, that's the bit that complicates things for me too: that you and your mother pooled the cash from your respective former homes to buy and adapt the new one, which you and your wife now own outright. Er… So when you account for mother's money, what's happened to her investment in her home? I think you might have shot yourself in the foot a bit, there.

Putting that in the 'too difficult' tray for a moment, though; as a rule of thumb, when it comes to paying for bills, it is legitimate to use mother's money for things that are directly and exclusively for her benefit. As regards the parking bay, that is certainly mainly for her benefit, but it could also be construed as providing an amenity for the rest of the family - it's not exclusively for her, in the way that disability adaptations in a bathroom would be, for example. Then again, you've put in all the labour, which has a notional cash value, so that's something to take into account when you're trying to figure out what proportion of the cost mother should pay.

I think you'd better get some professional advice, preferably from an elder care specialist with a head for figures and a great bedside manner, and get this all squared away. It'll probably involve a good deal of tortured squealing from mother but in the long run you and your wife will have peace of mind and written guidelines to follow.
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I'm curious also - was titling the home in you and your wife's names so that your mother wouldn't have property or assets which Medicaid could attach if she became unable to live in your home?
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OldSon, don't forget your Mom was a child of the Great Depression... thus so many of the elders of that generation are very fugal to a point of being ridiculous at times. I see it on a regular basis with my parents. They refuse to purchase anything that would be a great help in their aging. My Dad still thinks that Motel 6 still charges $6 a night for a room :P

Also I an wondering if during her early adult years when she was in a relationship/marriage, that the husband did all the bill paying. Thus she wouldn't be familiar with mortgages, house insurance, property taxes or even utilities.

As for paving the driveway, if you charge your Mom for some or all the expense, and after she moves out [nursing home] or passes on, do you plan to tear out the paving, or will you and wife still benefit from it? Won't it add a bit of value to the home that you and your wife own?
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Let's see: I'm 85, the best years of my life are behind me, the house I helped pay for legally belongs to someone else, and I'm expected to pay for remodeling as well as pull my own weight with just about everything without a fuss. ... Forget it.

If you're having doubts about using her $, don't do it. Particularly if the roof is still holding up and the new driveway is more of a want than an actual need.

Push comes to shove, your Mom is lucid enough to take you to court and have the house put on the market. That's going to be more of a loss to you than to her. She'll take her share and find a studio somewhere; and you won't have enough to build the dream home that you're really after.

By the way, I her taking advantage of government assistance indicates her desire to preserve as much independence as possible; and to be less of a burden to you and your family. About being a miser, her behavior serves as a reminder of trying not to live beyond our means.

Sorry I couldn't be of much help here Old Son.
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What were the percentages of contribution for the house? If it was 50/50 and you and your wife contributed the same amount as your mother, I'm inclined to think that's really half her house. In that sense, I think a proportionate share of utilities could be paid by each of you, consistent with the ratio of contribution.

As to the upgrades/improvements, I can see the rationale of expecting payment from her since they do benefit her, but I can also see her point of view in that you and wife both share the house with her.

However, the fact that she "takes advantage of all the local government subsidized programs" bothers me, and I'm wondering what she does with her money if it's not to share the "operating" costs of the home. Who pays real estate taxes on the home? Homeowners' insurance?

This is a tough situation, trying to find some balance for the costs you each share. Generally, I would think that they should be split in the same proportion of your contributions to the building of the house, i.e., consistent with your ownership proportions.

But if the taxes and insurance aren't split, that suggests she should either contribute to a proportionate share of those, or contribute in some other way.

Maggie also makes a good point about whether or not there are other siblings. I can see that if there are and they're not comfortable with your arrangement, they could make accusations later. I do hope you're documenting all the costs and the shared expenses.
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"Mom, we need you to pay for some of the things we've done and are going to do to make your life easier - and OUR lives easier as we care for you. We're thinking, since X, Y and Z are costing us $........, that it would be fair if you helped us with $........"

I don't think, though, that you give mom enough credit. Ten years ago, she gifted you what was probably a sizeable amount of money for her future well being. What she probably sees is that you're changing "the deal." Cognitively impaired you say? I'm not so sure. ;) and she's right. You ARE changing the deal.

Whatever the "modest amount" you charge her monthly, I'd venture to guess she's so out of touch with prices today, that she thinks you're extorting her. Ha!

I can't tell you what's fair. I can tell you that if she needs Medicaid for long-term care within five years, Medicaid will probably penalize her benefit for any cash she puts into your home.

I'd have to the math. How much did she give you? How much has she given you monthly? Do you have any other siblings who will look eskance at your actions? And,if you are inheriting everything from mom anyway, just how big an issue do you want to make at this particular time?

I doubt you're wrong. It's more a matter of presentation and perception. You're both very generous to share your lives with mom, that's for sure.
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