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March 01, 2012

Selling the Family Home

Houses have souls.  Well, maybe not shiny-new houses. But houses with patina certainly do. Structures that have sheltered families, absorbed the laughter and secrets of children, harbored keepsakes and witnessed the emotional nourishment of family dinners…such houses become imbued with life.  So, when it comes time to sell the family home, the experience can be wrenching.

In my own family, my sister began lobbying my mother to move to an assisted living facility years before Mom finally made the move. It took our mother some time to mentally separate from the home she loved, and where she had loved and raised a family. In truth, my siblings and I shed a few tears during the move as well. It was the right thing for Mom, but as long as she lived there, our childhood memories were secure. clients often share mixed feelings about selling the family home. Sometimes adult children worry that their elderly parents will somehow get better, or will want to return home and their house will no longer be there.  Sometimes the parents are past caring about the house, but the children can’t bear to part with the security of home base.  One client confessed that while her mother didn’t know where she was anymore—and needed the safety of a senior care facility—she found it painful to say goodbye to the home where she grew up. We were able to help her by talking through the transition, and by recommending a senior move manager to facilitate the process.

Generations ago, this was less of an issue. People didn’t live as long, and they got sick and died quickly, often at home. Families usually lived in the same town, and sometimes an adult child might simply buy the family homestead from his or her siblings.  Today, seniors live longer—often past the time when they’re physically capable of keeping up a family-sized house—and adult children often live too far away, or have too many obligations, to care for a parent’s home as well as their own.  Also, proceeds from sale of the family home and excess furnishings may be needed to pay for assisted living or nursing home care. 

That doesn’t make the separation any easier. I’d love to hear from families who made the decision to sell the family home.  How did you come to the decision? Did you use a move manager to ease the process? Do you still feel it was the right thing to do? Share your experience—you may help another family.

If you're trying to decide what to do about the family home and you need support, call our Senior Care Advisors at 855-772-2730.


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The sorting, removing, cleaning (3 huge dumpsters full of stuff), and prep for sale fell upon the two people in the family that didn't work. These are the son-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They worked on the house for 8 months, with packing and moving of items to the southwest and west coast and to the upper midwest. It was a huge responsibility to endow upon 2 people that weren't even related and the daughter-in-law was actually not even liked or respected by her mother-in-law. It was difficult and emotionally draining to the point of PTSD for both people. The last 3 months required many long days to prep the house for sale. Now the daughter-in-law is angry, hurt and suffers depression from the revelation that she is a total outsider in the family. The son-in-law is suffering a disconnection from his family and refuses to find a job. This family crisis could have been averted or mitigated if the mother-in-law had decided that she (suffering from cancer) and the father-in-law (suffering from dementia) would move to an assisted care facility and allow the changes to occur to the property that they no longer could care for. Now the daughter-in-laws husband is withdrawn, and worried constantly that he is losing his mind. He is becoming obsessed with herbs to help him keep his senses. When he visited the house to help for 5 days he became angry and violent and withdrawn. He was less than helpful to his wife who had been living 900 miles away for 3 months and working on flipping the house. The son-in-law kept leaving for weeks at a time and that left the daughter-in-law to do the house by herself. You can imagine her resentment towards her husband, sister-in-laws and brother-in-law. This is a rift that will not heal now.

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