It is sometimes believed that living with and acting as another person’s caregiver will provide the caregiver with the right to remain in the house or to claim a share of the estate following the patient’s death. Children often believe that caring for an elderly parent entitles them to greater share of the parent’s estate, particularly when that child’s siblings provide little or no assistance with the parent’s care.
(Rather than repeatedly use phrases like “the person receiving personal care services” or “the child’s elderly parent”, this person will be referred to as the “patient”. This is merely for convenience and not to indicate any formal relationship exists with the caregiver.)
By itself, the act of providing someone with personal care does not provide the caregiver with any rights to a portion of the patient’s estate, even if the caregiver has a family relation with the patient.
Many patients may actually intend to have the caregiver own the house or receive a portion of the estate, but, like so many people, just never get around to creating legally effective documentation like a valid will or deed.
A caretaker may still have the ability to make a claim against the estate when there aren’t any valid documents.
It is possible for a patient and a caregiver enter a valid agreement that entitles the caregiver to a portion of patient’s estate in return for caregiver’s services.
A valid agreement may even exist where the patient and caregiver do not have a written, signed contract between them. Verbal agreements that are properly formed and acted upon are legally enforceable. However, as with all legal issues, the strength of any claim will depend upon the individual facts of each case, particularly the language that was used by the parties.
Statements such as “You won’t have to worry when I’m gone” or “You’ll be taken care of when I’m not around” are very vague. Where this type of uncertain language is used, it is difficult for the caregiver to enforce the apparent agreement against the patient’s estate. Suppose that it is proven without any doubt that the patient made these statements, without more it will still be difficult for the caregiver to collect.
One reason is that the caregiver’s opinion of how much money is needed to satisfy these requirements can differ greatly from the patient’s opinion, but only the caregiver is available to express his or her opinion. It may also be found that the patient was making similar remarks to others, even those who did not provide personal care, which makes the patient’s intention to enter an agreement by those words seem less likely.