Annie Lane: Mother-in-law may be asking too much

Published 5:54 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

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Dear Annie: My mother-in-law is 81 and a widow. She currently lives alone. Her health is declining, and she has been talking about wanting my husband and me to move in with her and “take care of her and the house.” She is adamantly against moving into assisted living or anything similar. I already cook meals and take them to her weekly. I help with some household chores and have been maintaining the 10 acres the house sits on. My husband and I talk to her on the phone daily and have for the past two years since my father-in-law got ill and passed away.

My husband is disabled, and I have been his full-time caregiver for over 12 years. Moving in with her would add to my responsibilities to care for both of them.

She has suggested that we sell our house and buy her house from her. Her house is completely paid off and is worth about $300,000 more than our home. We currently owe about $250,000 on our home due to refinancing, where we withdrew cash a couple of years ago. Our only income is my husband’s disability pay, which currently covers the bills but not much else. Her moving into our house would not be an option; it’s just too small.

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There has been no talk of any kind of compensation for me to cook, clean, run errands, take care of the 10 acres, drive her to appointments and be her caregiver.

Her will states that everything will be divided equally between her two sons upon her death. Her assets are at least $1 million and probably closer to $1.25 million.

We live 20 minutes from her. Her other son lives on the other side of the country and hasn’t visited in over 17 years and rarely calls her. If we buy her house, she plans to give the money to her other son as “payment” for his half of the value of the house.

I love her dearly but honestly don’t know if I could handle the added stress. We have opposite political and social views. My husband and I would have no privacy, and her bedroom would be directly across the hall from ours. There isn’t even a separate living room.

I think if we were to move in, we shouldn’t have to pay for the house, and I should not have to become the live-in cook, housekeeper, nurse, etc. Am I wrong? Also, how should we split the cost of major repairs as they come up?

— Paying to Be a Caregiver

Dear Paying: It does sound like she is taking advantage of your kindness. The best thing to do is to set clear boundaries of what you are willing to do and not do. It is not unreasonable for you to request some sort of compensation for all the extra work you would be taking on if you moved into her house.

Try not to get into a competitive argument about your husband’s brother, and focus instead on what will make you happy. Not visiting his recently widowed mother for 17 years shows that he is neither considerate nor kind to her. Let him live with his choices.

You sound like a kind caregiver, but when you give to others, it is important it fill your own cup first. Remember, too, that you are not obligated to sell your house and move into hers.

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