Extended families end up living together for all sorts of reasons, whether financial, due to life disruptions, the need for assistance in childcare or elder care, or just a preference to live together. These co-living arrangements may be short-term or lifelong. They may work out well for all involved or cause difficult stresses and conflicts.
The financial arrangements may be clear cut or complicated. For instance, there are probably few financial questions when a young adult moves back in with their parents after college or after breaking up with a partner. The house belongs to the parents who may or may not require some contribution from the child to help cover household expenses.
But matters can get much more complicated when parents and children decided to buy a house with an in-law apartment together or a child gives up their job and moves back home to care for a parent needing assistance. Who pays for what? Is the child compensated for providing assistance? What happens if the arrangement doesn’t work out? What happens to the house after the parent passes away?
All too often, families don’t fully discuss these questions, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts. The more full the discussion, both at the outset of moving in together and as the arrangement develops, the more likely difficulties can be avoided.
We’ve developed a workbook to assist families with this discussion. It poses a series of questions about what the expectations of the different members of the family for the co-living arrangement. Families can answer the questions together or they can answer them separately and then share their responses. The second approach permits each participant to voice their expectations before being influenced by those of other members of the family, so it may permit a more open conversation.
Once the family comes together on a plan, we advise putting it in writing. Doing so serves several purposes. It’s an aid to memory, since no one’s memory is perfect. It makes certain that everyone does agree to the same terms; if it’s not in writing you can’t be sure that what everyone has in mind is the same. And it represents the agreement for third parties, perhaps other family members, who may have a totally different conception of what was or should have been agreed upon.
Finally, remember that no agreement needs to be set in stone. Circumstances change. Reality may turn out to be different from what was expected. Families should periodically review their co-living arrangements and update them as appropriate.
You can download our Cohab Workbook for Families here.
We also have a Cohab Workbook for Unmarried Couples moving in together here.