How to Move to Care for an Aging Parent

by Kevin on March 7, 2011

There are two things in life you will never escape: taxes and death. The same, sadly, is true for the family members you love and cherish. As your parents get older potentially awkward scenarios begin to come forth: which kid or kids will move closer to help out, have Mom and Dad prepared for their declining health, what if I have to move… and so on.

I’ve documented how my wife and I picked up our lives in Birmingham and moved “back  home” to Knoxville, Tennessee on No Debt Plan. We’re not originally from Knoxville, but it is the closest large city to both of our families. We moved at the very end of last year.

Our move was intentional and not a spur of the moment decision. We wanted to be closer to our families for a multitude of reasons. One of those was that we’re pretty much the only kids on either side of the family that can move to help out our parents as they get older. It isn’t a fun thought, but it definitely was part of our thought process as we made tough decisions on our future.

Moving to take care of aging parents is different than moving for an exciting new job opportunity. When you accept a new job you’re expecting to move. You wouldn’t have interviewed for something new in a different city otherwise. You know a move is coming, and often you receive a relocation package to assist in the process. When you move to take care of family it can be either planned or a sudden need related to illness or an accident. We can easily find ourselves living hundreds of miles apart when something tragic happens.

The worst case scenario is when an illness strikes and there’s no one else that can help. A spouse will leave their own family and children behind to move back home to take care of the family member until everyone can move to the new city. This causes not only a lot of emotional stress on the family, but it can be a financial disaster. When something like this happens it is a surprise, and surprises usually aren’t good things when it comes to your finances.

To avoid all that mess take the following steps to make this transition a bit smoother.

5 Steps to Moving to Care for Family

1. Have tough conversations.

This is the worst part. You must sit down with your aging parents and have a tough conversation about the future. Aging, a loss of mobility, a need for assistance, and death are all pretty much guaranteed to happen. How you and your family prepare for those instances now will make that time easier for everyone involved.

But it won’t be fun.

2. Prepare financially.

Once you’ve talked with your parents it is time to put a plan into place. If you and your family are going to be the ones to move back home to help out you need to start preparing now. Build up an extensive cash reserve to cover various potential living situations: one spouse stays behind and tries to sell the house on one income while the other spouse moves home with no income, both spouses move without jobs to a new home back home, and you both stay put until jobs are secured. Take things into consideration like having to sell your home at a loss and the financial aspect of moving all of your belongings to a new city and state.

3. Prepare to move.

You’re not moving just yet, but it is never too early to prepare for that day.

  • Got extra stuff? Sell or donate it. This will speed up the process if you have to move in a hurry with the added benefit of decluttering your house and pocketing some cash or tax benefit.
  • Secure boxes. It usually doesn’t take a lot of time to do this, but it never hurts to have a stockpile up in the attic so you don’t have to search for them while in an emotionally fragile state.
  • Back away. If moving is closer on the horizon you might consider backing away from outside obligations. Step down as the President of the PTA. Hand over the reigns as lead volunteer at church. You’re not looking to completely disengage from your current life, but you need to be able to leave at a moment’s notice. In the long run backing away will be better for your favorite organizations because they’ll have time to find an adequate replacement for you.

4. Look for work.

The best time to move to care for an ailing parent is when you’ve got steady employment lined up near them. Anything you can do to limit the financial impact of this emotional situation the better. You might also need to accept that you could take less money to get back closer to family. Don’t be stuck on finding your current salary if it isn’t realistic to find that salary in the place you’ll be moving to.

5. Move at the right time.

If you’ve prepared you’ll be able to move when the time comes. Whether that means dropping everything and living off a large emergency fund until you can find new work or selling your house now so you can get a short term lease… you’ll be ready for your own personal situation.

Moving for us has been a great thing. We’ve already seen both sets of parents within two months of moving. In the past it would take a good bit of planning to get them down to our home in Birmingham thanks to the six hour drive (plus a time change). There are a lot of perks in being closer to family aside from being able to help them out as they get older. They can help us out if we’re blessed with kids, and our potential future children will be able to spend more quality time with them. There’s a lot of positives for it despite the emotional roller coaster it puts you on.

I’d love to hear stories from you on moving to take care of a loved one. How did you pull it off? Did you just up and leave your old life, or did you plan for it? Leave a comment and let’s get talking.


Crystal March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm

I haven’t been in this situation yet but it sounds tough. Luckily we already live 15 minutes away from my in-laws, but we are a little more than an hour away from my parents. I still think it’s doable. But who knows for sure where we will be when we are in our 50’s and our parents need us? Like I said before, it just sounds so tough!

Kevin March 9, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Thankfully (knock on wood) our parents are still in good health, but we’re all going to need help eventually.

Golfing Girl March 8, 2011 at 4:29 pm

There is something to be said for living near family. I had to spend $450 to fly my mother in last week (she lives 12 hours away by car) so she could help with our 1 year old since I broke my wrist. I have no idea how we’ll manage when she goes back next week. This wouldn’t be near the problem if we lived near my extended family…
Anyone know how to diaper with one arm??

Kevin March 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Yikes! I don’t know how to diaper at all, so I can’t be of any help there. Sorry 🙁

Emily March 9, 2011 at 3:50 pm

We live far away from both our parents. I’m hoping we will never have to face such a situation. When I visit my mom this summer I plan to ask if she has long term care insurance.

Kevin March 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm

So you’re just going to let her insurance take care of her?

patty May 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm

My husband and I are really in a quandry. We were planning to move closer to my mom in florida to live in a family home which my mom has offered. She’s still mobile, still drives, and is as active as she can be at 80. We just felt it was time to do this to be there in case of medical problems down the road. Problem is, I know my mom’s extremely controlling personality but was willing to move anyway since it seems like the right thing to do. From the time we’ve spent with her through this process, it’s been very definitly conveyed to us that we will be living in her house, told not to paint walls, and is pretty much dictating everything we can and cannot do (even neighbors we can and can’t talk to) – eventhough she’s had renters for years and has never gotten involved with their homemaking. She’s overrided our decisions to put in central air and heat (our expense) to make things more comfortable, and has betrayed our trust by giving away the code to the garage where my husband has asked her firmly not to give it away to her friend who helps out with repairs(who by the way hires very seedy characters. ) My husband moved his expensive tools in their and didn’t want them stolen. When we told her we’d like to celebrate her 80th birthday in our home so she doesn’t have to worry about everyone traveling to hers and sleeping arrangements, she replied “Who’s house?”
We’ve lived away from her for 30 years and have been independent the whole way. We’re very close to deciding not to move at this time just because of the fear of sacrificing our time with one of our children who has decided to stay here, our farm, selling off all of our animals, renting out our home, leaving friends, and jobs just to be miserably micromanaged in the new place where we would like to set up a home to be closer to her.
This is a pickle. Any advice?

Crystal May 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm

I wouldn’t move in. You will get resentful (even more) and all of your lives will suck. Leave her to herself until she needs professional care – she won’t micromanage you and you won’t start hating her.

Tony April 7, 2013 at 1:02 am

Patty it doesn’t sound like your mother is ready to accept your help yet, but the time will come when she will have to and she knows it. I was in a similar situation having a very independent mother who likes to have things her own way and even though I saw her aging and becoming more frail I let her have her life and decided to just stay close for when she needs me. I have seen a very definite change of attitude in her now that she is weakening and she is very much more submissive to the idea of having me in her home as head of the home and I am making plans with my wife to take on that role.

Shirley July 5, 2013 at 5:59 pm

My husband has moved 300 miles away to care for his aging parents. The arrangement was that I would stay in our home keeping things going and visit him about every three weeks for about days. My in-laws do not want to go to assisted living nor move in with us. Additionally they only family members to take care of them. Both are 92 years old. I just don’t know if this is going to work. It’s only been one month and I’m already feeling left out of my husband. He has promised them he won’t leave them. Any one else experienced this model of care giving and was it success?

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