Dan liked the agreement he and his brother James, sister Marilou, and their mother had quickly reached about Mom’s care. She would move into assisted living at a place of her choosing. Since Mom wasn’t ready to sell her house Marilou, separated from her husband, would move in for the time being with her teenage son. The three siblings and Mom would equally share the cost of Mom’s care.
The agreement soon blew apart. Three crucial things were missing.
1. Missing people.
Spouses were not parties to the agreement. Dan’s wife strongly resented paying an equal share of the cost, since the other siblings were wealthier than Dan. Marilou’s son balked at moving into the house, which would require him to change high schools. Everyone affected by a family decision needs to be heard.
2. Missing issues.
The actual cost of care was left open. Parameters needed to be established on how much the family could afford. Also, no time limit was set on Marilou’s occupancy or what would trigger the sale of the house. What if she went back to her husband? Or wanted move someone else in? What if Mom needed more intensive care? What if a sibling lost his/her job or had their own emergency? Always ask, What if…? There needs to be a Plan B.
3. Missing terms
How would house upkeep be paid? Taxes? Insurance? Utilities? Marilou thought her one-fourth of Mom’s expenses was all that was expected from her; wasn’t she doing the family a service to keep the house occupied? Dan assumed Marilou would pay all house expenses plus Mom’s care; and James thought Marilou should pay market rent to cover expenses and Mom should cover taxes and insurance. Brainstorm every aspect of a possible action, and be sure everyone’s understanding is the same.
Here’s the take-away: Some agreements shouldn’t be rushed. Take your time to discuss, clarify, and resolve all aspects of a proposed agreement. This is not the time to leave an unnamed elephant in the room.