The ‘Multi-Generational Living’ Lawyer. What?

Quite often we ask ourselves how we can create a niche, how to be different, how to truly carve out a unique subset of a practice area to call our own and then get known for that area.  I always like to follow demographic changes and economic changes to see what can be done.  Well, a recent article  and an article from 2010 discussing how the changing economy has seen an upswing in multiple generations residing together got me to thinking about this unique twist on The Family Lawyer.

According to this Pew Research Center report, Boomerang adults are most responsible for the rapid increase in multi-generational households. In 1980, 11 percent of young adults (between the ages of 24 to 35) returned home to live with their parents. By 2008, 20 percent of young adults returned home. Interestingly, this age group is the only one in which men make up the greater share. Among the elderly, the reverse is true: Women are a larger portion of those in multi-generational homes. Overall among the elderly, the same percentage as young adults (20 percent) enjoy a multi-generational home, up from 17 percent in the 1980s.

The number of so-called multi-generational households — where adults are living with their elderly parents or grown children — has jumped since the Great Recession forced Americans to rethink living on their own. Demographic experts say it’s poised to rise further as baby boomers age, so-called “boomerang kids” walloped by the weak job market stay home longer, and ethnic groups such as Asians and Hispanics, who are more likely to live with extended family, continue to grow.

There are zoning issues.  Then there are potential shared ownership issues, estate issues, liability issues, landlord/tenant issues if a family member is a renter, tax issues, privacy issues, roommate issues all under the emotional umbrella of ‘family’.

The reality is, this segment of the market will be growing due to the economy.  It is also a ‘preventive’ practice area meaning  potential problems should be discussed and  necessary documents should be created before the families make decisions on living arrangements and doing so blindly and out of love or obligation. 

For example: an aging mother moves in with one of her children, spouse, and grandchildren.  An apartment is built for the mother.  Who pays for the zoning variance?  Who pays for construction? Who pays for ongoing tax liability for increased taxes due to the in-law apartment?  Who pays for access ramps for the mother’s wheel chair? Who pays for utilities if they run off the same zones?  Who get’s tax credits? Does the mother’s childcare duties for her grandchildren have a value and offset costs down the road?  What happens if the mother dies leaving an unfunded increased tax liability on the home which the child (home owner) can’t afford to pay? Does the value of the addition become an automatic benefit to the child (home owner) in exchange for rent unpaid on the apartment? Can the apartment be willed to another child giving them an unplanned for interest in the home when it is sold or an automatic right to use against the homeowner’s wishes? Or does the value of the apartment get deducted from the child (home owner’s) share of the mother’s estate?  You see where this is going.  This is an area ripe with possibilities for preventive and holistic law as well as, unfortunately, litigation.

What about rental agreements between parents (home owners) and adult children and their spouses who live in the parents’ home with their little children?   Let’s take it a step farther and talk about aging sibling’s who both have children who decide to live together and pool their resources?

Not only is this area rich with possibilities but it also has many tangential (and feeder) practice areas: trusts and estates, real estate, landlord/tenant, bankrtupcy, zoning and mediation.

Just gets you to thinking, doesn’t it?

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