How can I feel okay about throwing money at a problem for a year?
November 30, 2019 9:39 PM   Subscribe

So, in my last post I detailed a bunch of worries I have about my mom's future, from the costs of assisted living to what to do with her home. I've since calmed down, slightly, I've realized that a lot of these problems are things we can throw money at for a year until I return to town in 1 year. However, it's going to be an expensive year and I feel bad about spending (or my mom spending the money) on these things. How can I be okay with it?!

I guess, because of how sudden everything is. I just did not expect to be trying to solve these problems two weeks ago, because they weren't problems! And

First of all, I spoke to a hospital social worker, and it doesn't sound like assisted living is going to be nearly as expensive as I thought it would be... which is a good thing. It's going to be affordable for my mom. Also, according to the social worker none of this is certain yet. They are going to be doing capacity assessments on her this week to determine if she should return home (and if so, would she get homecare?) or if not recommend her to an assisted living facility. Which would probably mean she'd stay in the hospital for a few months (paying a fee for the bed) until she is placed.

I've been in a panic about what to do to with her house, because as of two weeks ago... she was still living there! Now, I've discovered that if I'm out of town for my new job and she's not at home and no one is living there, her home is vacant (great). First, I'll be relocating back to this city and back to my mom's house in 1-year's time... barring any unpredictable events. So in 1-year I'll likely take over the payments for the house. Is it unethical of me or something for my mom to both be paying the bills for her house while she's in the hospital/eventually into assisted living AND also then paying for the cost of assisted living once she's out of the hospital? I feel like... somehow I'm a bad person, because I can't afford to pay for her house while she's in the hospital. I'm making more money at my new job, so I am planning on saving A LOT, but I just am not earning enough to maintain two households. It's okay for her to use her own savings for this, right? She should be FINE to spend this money, but it makes me feel bad.

So, I've had a precursory discussion with her insurance company (she'll have to add me as a contact, which we'll do tomorrow, and then I can go further with this), and she'd need to get a vacancy permit, which could have a surcharge (the insurance company couldn't give me a solid quote, but they said a vacancy permit is good for 2 months, can be renewed, and could cost between $200-$500ish for those two months. So, if the house is vacant for about 12 months... on the high end that's going to cost an extra $3000 for a year (probably on top of raised insurance rates? I'm assuming).

Then, I realized if her house is vacant, we'd need to get someone to check on it to make sure the heat is working, no pipes are frozen, get the mail, etc. I'll be able to visit every two or so weeks, but someone should be checking on the house frequently. I have two friends who I've asked to check on the house and get the mail, etc. but I don't want to burden them with this shit for an entire YEAR. I reached out to a reputable house sitting company, who charges approx. $22+GST per visit (making it $23.10/visit). I'm guessing, I'd maybe have this person come to the house twice a week, so that would be $184.8/mo or $2217.60/year. They do a walkthrough, check the heat, furnace, pipes, fridge/freezer, and bring mail in to the house. Having someone get the mail was also a big concern, because Canada Post's options for holding mail and forwarding mail are not ideal in this situation, both options aren't as great or as convenient as someone getting the mail and chucking it into a basket for me to go through when I visit the city.

So, on top of her bills for the house (which already includes snow removal/lawn care, because I was really lazy and never had time to do her for her anyway, so that was arranged awhile ago) & assisted living, she'd be paying over $5K for maintaining the house. I guess I feel bad that she has to spend her money on these problems that I have to suddenly solve for her. Of course, $5K for insurance while her home is vacant AND having someone check on the home so nothing catastrophic happens, is a SMALL price to pay if her basement is entirely flooded or something. She has a decent amount of savings, I reckon, and could afford this... but I just feel bad about spending the money on this stuff? It seems so expensive to me! And I feel like for some reason it's something I should personally be paying for, because if I were in town I'd be taking care of her house anyway, but now I can't because I'll be away for a year.

I know that with money "you can't take it with you," but how can I be okay with spending it? It just looks like it's going to be an expensive year and I'm not sure how to come to terms with that.
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What about getting a "roommate"/maintenance person to occupy the house? You could just get a moving company to pack up a couple of rooms and put it into storage. Prepay for a year to lock in the rate and you may also get a discount.
posted by Sophont at 10:17 PM on November 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would consider that if I had more time to prepare, but I'll be heading out of town in a week. The house isn't organized enough to have someone else come in and live there. There's so much of my personal stuff there, too, especially because of the move.

Also, this might sound stupid, but in some ways the house is just ugly. My dad left a ton of unfinished projects before he passed away (he did everything in the home himself, stereotypical engineer). For example, I can't imagine someone wanting to rent a house with some half painted rooms and no baseboards (my dad hated the baseboards he bought when he did our floors, and never installed them!!). I plan on getting all those details fixed in a year from now.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 10:24 PM on November 30, 2019

Is it unethical of me or something for my mom to both be paying the bills for her house while she's in the hospital/eventually into assisted living AND also then paying for the cost of assisted living once she's out of the hospital? I feel like... somehow I'm a bad person, because I can't afford to pay for her house while she's in the hospital.

It’s not unethical for her to pay for assisted living while also paying to insure and maintain her house so it can be cleared out, fixed up, and sold for a better price at a later date.

You are not a bad person. You are looking after your mom to make sure her housing situation is most appropriate for her needs as an elderly infirm person who (from your previous description) can’t make these decisions for herself.

If she has the capacity, you could ask her if she wants the house to be sold as soon as it’s feasible, to help defray the costs of her assisted living. But even if she says yes, it doesn’t mean it can (or should) be done instantly. You don’t live in town, so it will take longer to clean it out and get it in shape to be sold. That’s just reality. If she says no, then you can go ahead and just continue your plan for her to pay for the house’s upkeep until you do move back in a year.

Think of it this way. If your mom did not have you, she would have to appoint (or have appointed for her) someone who would be paid from her income/savings to do the management and decision-making you are going to be doing for free.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:43 PM on November 30, 2019 [14 favorites]

Ways to be OK with spending money:

Things in life cost money. Obviously, we know this as adults. But I think sometimes our child self freaks out a bit when we start breaking down numbers and costs. Yes, 5,000 is a lot, it's a big number! But over a year it's not so much. It's not so much when you look at the various expenses that come with home ownership.

It's not wrong for your mum to have to pay for assisted living and maintain her home- a crude analogy is that you still have to pay rent/mortgage when you are also paying for hotel accommodation when on holidays.

As to you being away- maybe you'll have a week off somewhere when the weather's nicer and can come back and really look at things and get things organised. Or maybe not, and that's OK too.

As to the guilt of "if only I was in town I could solve all of this..." especially since you took a gamble, made a choice that was brave and right for you at the time, and that choice still is right! The costs would still be high whether you were in town or not- these things are expensive, unfortunately.

Travel back and forth will be expensive too- that's OK, it's worth it to spend time with your mum.

It's OK to spend money on worthwhile things.
posted by freethefeet at 11:14 PM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also consider if you really need somebody to check on the house that frequently. My aunt and uncle go away in their motor home for several months at a time and they have a friend pop on every so often to water the plants, all low maintenance plants at this point, and to pick up the mail.

The house is locked up, the water is turned off (outside tap is used for watering) if they go away in winter the heating runs at a very low temperature to avoid frozen pipes and to keep the houseplants alive. They also have somebody cut the grass every so often in the summer. That’s it. Given the plants they have now the friend pops over every 10 days or so?

You could get a PO Box for the mail and winterise the house and just have somebody pop in very infrequently.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:17 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Your mom is worth the money

It's well spent making a complex and difficult situation easier for both you and your mom. A less financially costly solution would certainly cost you energy and time and emotional health.

You are worth the money.
posted by meemzi at 12:22 AM on December 1, 2019 [12 favorites]

One more thing: if you are a female-identifying person, be aware that women are socialized to take on a lot of guilt about being caretakers of others. Sometimes people (including social workers and health professionals) will place disproportionate guilt on women if they dare to take care of their own needs even while they are taking care of the needs of others! If anyone gives you grief over "throwing money" at the situation while you pursue a career building job opportunity in another town, well, they are welcome to take over organizing your mom's care and paying for it. I doubt anyone is going to take you up on that.

You are doing a great job of making sure your mom's needs are met, managing this from a distance as you are trying to start a new job. Just remember: you are ensuring your mother is safe and taken care of, which is your prime concern, and also that her house is safe and taken care of while she is not living in it. It does NOT have to be you doing the direct caretaking, for either your mother or her house. It also does not need to be you who pays for any of this. Your mother has money and this is what it is for. Since she has no one but you, presumably you are the one who will inherit her money once she dies. So, if you start feeling guilty about it, think of it this way: you are helping her spend your inheritance on herself rather than leaving it for you, which is pretty unselfish!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:42 AM on December 1, 2019 [13 favorites]

Maybe she can stay in her home for the next year, avoiding the double cost. If she can't, isn't that just as much "her fault" as "yours?" Really, it's nobody's fault; it's just the way the timing worked out. My point here isn't to blame your mom -- it's to get you not to blame yourself.

If you really want to take a monetary view of things, then I'd compare the potential rent income to the cost of having movers, painters, and baseboard installers get the place ready to rent. That said, it's your childhood home and you're planning to return. Unless you really want a fresh coat of paint and to get a fresh start when you live there, I'd try to spare yourself that emotional process.
posted by slidell at 2:34 AM on December 1, 2019

If you weren't there your mum would be paying for her house and for assisted living or her hospital stay, so how does your existence in the picture change this? Is there actually a scenario where she wouldn't have to pay for the house? I mean, I suppose if you quit working and lived in the house to be near her and take care of it, but then she would need to support you, so she'd still be paying for the house because of having to cover all your expenses while you were unemployed.

Or maybe you are thinking that if you were a good child you would instantly sell the house so as to take the burden off her, but you are being selfish by planning to move into it when you get back in town? Instantly selling the house would require it to be sold as is at fire sale prices, so knock at least one third of the potential price - which is, I think, likely to be more than a year's upkeep and maintenance. And if the hospital informs your mum that she can go home so long as she has a three-times-a-week home care worker, having panic sold the house in order to save on a year's upkeep costs is going to turn out to have been a very bad decision.

No, your mum is stuck with these expenses. It would have been nice if there was a way to avoid them, and it would have been fantastic if you had the magic ability to spare her having these expenses, but... she chose not to do the work necessary to keep the house in ready-to-sell condition, and she has chosen not to prepare for the eventual need to get assistance with her life. The majority of people put off doing this as she did. It would have required some very hard-headed realism, and willingness to deal with people and difficult conversations. It was her life and her job, not your job. Any help you are giving her is wonderful, and ethically the right thing to do, but you were less responsible for this than she was, even if she tried hard to delegate it to you, and it doesn't sound like she did.

End of life expense are scary high, and rather a jolt. It's much easier to think of just staying quietly at home and maybe having to pay a little bit more for prescriptions or for a housekeeper to come in a few times... Turns out that was not an accurate prediction of what would be needed. It might have been, but it wasn't. So this is like when your six year old car that was running perfectly one day makes a nasty grindy noise and stops dead in an intersection and $178 dollars worth of towing fees only brings you to where a mechanic quotes you a figure in the thousands while the car drips quietly in her garage. Ugh! The financial bottom has dropped out of your plans, and now you have to work around it. But it's not your fault or your mother's fault. It's the nature of six year old cars and senior parents.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:07 AM on December 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Is it unethical of me or something for my mom to both be paying the bills for her house while she's in the hospital/eventually into assisted living AND also then paying for the cost of assisted living once she's out of the hospital?

No. Why would it be, particularly in the short term? Your mum needs to pay the bills for her house. If she can't live in her house, then she also needs to pay for assisted living. Even if you put the house on the market this very minute all of those bills are going to keep stacking up until it's sold. And it's your mum's house. They are her bills. What is her money for if not to pay for her own care and to look after her most valuable asset?
posted by plonkee at 5:15 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Glad there is good news about the costs of assisted living, that will be a major stressor removed.

Agree with others above that twice a week is very frequent for having people come check on the house. Once every 2 weeks or 10 days is fine. If you are coming about every other week, your 2 friends can alternate the other weeks, which works out to just over once a month per friend, which is a easy thing I would happily do for a dear friend.

Turn the heat down to 50F, and get a handful of remote sensor for temperature and dampness that are WiFi enabled. Put one in the basement and wherever you are worried about a leak. They are programmable to alert you or your local friends when the temperature is above or below the parameters you set, or if there is water. Your local friends can then come check it out. Folks I know who motorhome 6 months of the year got these for the peace of mind.
posted by foodmapper at 6:18 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I hope your mother will be able to live in her own home with help. Don't worry too much about the house insurance business until you know for sure that she cannot. If it turns out that she needs to be in permanent assisted living then perhaps you can find a tenant/caretaker. Have you explained to the social worker that you have to move away for a job? The social worker is there to help your mother. Plenty of people she or he sees do not have a caring involved relative like you.

You're dealing with a lot here and you're understandably overwhelmed by it all. Try not to catastrophize. For your peace of mind I urge you to find yourself a therapist after you move to your new city.
posted by mareli at 6:31 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm still wondering why you can't have a friend (or a friend of a friend) from your mother's social or religious circles move into the house for a year (one year, just one year, this is understood) and house-sit at dirt cheap rent. If they take care of the upkeep and pay the bills, they are ahead of the game -- missing baseboards notwithstanding.
The only problems to this are 1) if they have pets or are horrible slobs and tear up the place, or 2) they refuse to move out when you tell them to.
I don't know the insurance and legal sides of rental, but it makes more sense to make money off the property rather than spending it if the house is inhabitable. Again, this is contingent on renting to someone you know with a good track record.
I would be hesitant about letting a short-term renter fix up the place as part of the deal. Better to pay a professional to get it done right the first time, rather than deal with a half-finished crappy job at the last minute.

As for "are you a good person" -- you are stepping in to help. Everything past that is extra.
Parents really don't get into "ConMari Method" prior to their declining years. Been there, done that, and it's exhausting to deal with. But this, too, shall pass.
Try to enjoy time with your mom as much as possible, and know that there are actually people who will liquidate an estate for you, if required. You don't get back time.
posted by TrishaU at 6:48 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks for all the advice, so far. It's making me feel better about using my mom's resources to take care of HER. I guess part of the reason why I feel like I'm not doing enough that whenever I read about elder-care it's always from the perspective of people who are OLDER (like mid-40s-60s) taking care of elderly parents, and those people have their own resources and strong social networks ON TOP of their parents resources to take care of them. I'm only 31, my mom had me later in life, and I just don't know how I'm supposed to develop myself and my career when at the same time I have to take care of an elderly mother. It's really, really hard for me to actually focus on my own goals and life and not just give up and become a full-time caretaker, because it seems like that would be 100% easier some days. Obviously that's not a good idea in the long run, but it's hard to balance two lives when you barely have enough time for one.

TrishiaU, it's because my mom has no social circle, as she's alienated all her friends and family over the past 20 years due to mental illness. So, there's no one that she personally knows that could help. Maybe some of her neighbours could check on the property here and there, but that's it. I move out of town in a week and there's no way that I can pack my own belongings from my place and clean up her house in the next 7 days for it to be in good condition for renters. She also hasn't been a very good housekeeper for over a decade, so things like the shower/bathtub are ridiculously dirty and probably need to be replaced, rather than cleaned at this point.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:38 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

It is ok to just keep the property and effects in it secure for a year and to use her money to do so. There is a cost associated with home ownership and for the next twelve months this will be it for your mother.

Make sure you get the insurance sorted for an unoccupied property and get your mother situated in assisted living and move. You can start to research all the ways you can deal with the property more long-term after your move and come up with a plan in your own time.

Don’t feel obliged to find somebody to live there at the moment. Think of it as three variables you can combine to solve this - labour, time and money. You have no time and a limited capacity to throw labour (your own/your or her friends’) at this but you can throw money at it so that’s what you have to do.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:30 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would say, life costs money. The reason to earn money at all is to make life better. This is an important time when your mom needs some extra care and help, and you need peace of mind to succeed at work. Both of these things are worth paying for.

Set a budget, then increase it by 20% for unexpected things, and just realize that your peace of mind and your mom’s comfort are actually worth that much.

And remember that if you spend the year feeling constantly stressed about her, you won’t be able to work at a superstar level. So paying for extra peace of mind this year will mean your career keeps advancing, which will pay back dividends in your career and earning potential for years to come.

Repeat after me: She’s worth it. You’re worth it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:57 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

It is just fine to use your mother’s money for your mother’s house and mother’s care. With no shame to her, this is the cost of her not dealing with her own mental health issues. It’s great, no sarcasm, that you are helping to keep her safe and secure. It’s absolutely ok that her money is used for this crisis. Having your own life is absolutely okay. If you check on her and the house, that’s your contribution.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:46 AM on December 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

TrishiaU, it's because my mom has no social circle, as she's alienated all her friends and family over the past 20 years due to mental illness. So, there's no one that she personally knows that could help. Maybe some of her neighbours could check on the property here and there, but that's it.

Okay... rats. Come to think of it, this sounds familiar in my own neighborhood.
One of my neighbors just sold his deceased mother's house to his girlfriend's uncle for a song, just to get rid of it. Tearing it down would be an improvement. Yes, she was a hoarder for more than 30 years.
Another neighbor rented four big dumpsters to remove the trash from his deceased sister-in-law's house, reroofed it, put it on the market, and finally moved into it due to no acceptable offers. His daughter and her family are guardians for his handicapped nephew, so they are managing the estate.

Maybe (after you have some time to breathe) you can reach out to the neighbors about finding a renter. After all, they have to deal with an empty property which can spiral down into an "attractive nuisance" if left unattended. It is in their best interests to keep the area up to standards.
Some people would be willing to scrub the floors and shove the nick nacks into an extra bedroom if the rental price is right. As long as the property is inhabitable (utilities work, smoke alarms work, not a fire hazard), then they don't care.
Again, there may be legal and insurance issues that must be addressed before renting it, even to a friend-of-a-friend. I'd get a lawyer to draw up a contract, just in case.

You may be thinking, "But I don't want to lose my keepsakes and anything of value." Speaking as someone who went through three rooms after my mother died (the sweet husband and kids kept Dad occupied) and then went through the whole residence a few years later after my father died, I understand.
Dealing with Mom's clothes and personal items while Dad was in the next room was difficult, but it had to be done, and I didn't want him to try and do it.
After Dad died, I made many trips to Goodwill and was grateful that the trash service would take many -- many -- plastic bags of junk over several months of cleaning out.
You can hire someone to do this for you. It just wasn't worth the money for me, and I could spend the time sorting through, but lord it was daunting and exhausting and a mental drain. Very few items made the trip back home with me, in part because I'm a grown woman with my own Tupperware. I kept the photo albums and a few keepsakes, but that's about it. I'm sure my own children are glad about that.
Funeral bonfires should be a thing.
posted by TrishaU at 7:14 PM on December 1, 2019

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