Multigenerational living: How to help make your household work

A multigenerational family walking on the beach with their dog

It’s becoming more common for multiple generations of a family to share a home. How can you help make that situation work for everyone?

When Elizabeth (last name withheld) realized that she could no longer live at home alone because of her health problems, she decided to ask her adult daughter, Sarah (and Sarah’s children), to move in. She and Sarah had a close relationship, and as a bonus, Elizabeth would get to spend more time with her grandchildren. They joined the nearly 60 million people in the U.S. — 18% of the population — who are living in multigenerational households for reasons ranging from financial to cultural, according to a March 2022 report from Pew Research Center.

However, Elizabeth and Sarah never discussed the details of how the combined household would work — Elizabeth expected her daughter to provide a lot of hands-on care, and Sarah expected her mother to help with child care. Their relationship suffered, and eventually, Sarah and her children moved out.

“It shows the importance of communication in multigenerational living,” Deborah Lauer, senior wealth planner at Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management, says of this client’s situation. “If you want to have a successful combination of multiple generations in a single household, you need to discuss boundaries and expectations before anyone moves in. If you don’t, even the most minor irritation can grow into a huge problem.”

Here, Lauer discusses some considerations to keep in mind if you’re planning to consolidate households.

The benefits of multigenerational households

When everyone is working together, multigenerational living can be beneficial for everyone involved — you may be sharing expenses, dividing up home maintenance responsibilities and chores, and reestablishing family bonds and relationships.

“This can be an opportunity to share stories and solidify relationships from generation to generation,” Lauer says. “Grandparents can share family stories and history with their grandchildren to help them understand who they are and where they come from. Living together, you’ll also share family traditions, which then may strengthen family bonds.”

Having multiple generations under one roof can also make everyday living easier. Sharing expenses like the mortgage, maintenance, and utilities can make a huge difference for families who otherwise couldn’t handle home upkeep or expensive repairs. It can also help free up income for other things — for example, it can help grandparents pay down debt or help their children start a business.

Moving in to help older family members age in place can also help protect family assets, Lauer says. “Assisted living can be very expensive — many adults sell their homes to afford it. By moving in, the children may keep the home in the family while also helping protect generational wealth.”

The challenges of multigenerational living situations

While no two families are alike, there are a few common sources of trouble that can derail multigenerational living plans. It’s best to agree on rules and responsibilities for these before combining households.

“The budget is one of the biggest issues to address before combining multiple generations under one roof,” Lauer says. “Who is going to pay for what? If parents allow children to return to the nest, what do the parents expect regarding home maintenance, groceries, bills, and other expenses?”

Next up: chores. How will chores be divided, and what are the expectations around caregiving for ill or aging parents and child care for young children? Lauer says it’s important to be clear about boundaries and expectations to help ensure that no one feels surprised or mistreated.

And finally, agree on basic ground rules. “It’s important to agree on what can and cannot happen within the home,” she says. “Everyone needs to find their own space in the home, and you don’t want to disrupt everyone’s daily routine. Adult children moving back home with their own children may expect the grandparents to babysit all day every day, forgetting that the grandparents have their own interests and lives.”

Tips to help make the most of multigenerational living

Lauer says that it’s important to talk things through before anyone moves in together, but it’s also important to keep the conversation going even after everyone has settled in.

“You check in with your financial advisor to review your investments, and your lawyer to review your estate plan,” she says. “You should also meet as a household regularly to talk about what’s working in the home and what isn’t.”

Two additional tips:

  1. Consider adjusting important estate planning documents so they align with your multigenerational living situation. It can be a good idea to talk with a lawyer to execute or update a power of attorney and health care proxy and to determine any adjustments that need to be made to other estate planning documents to help family members retain the house should something happen to the homeowner.
  2. Create a shared calendar to stay organized. This is a way to track everyone’s commitments, activities, and plans, which can help avoid confusion over who is going to be home for dinner, who needs help with adult or child care on any given day, and more. “It doesn’t even have to be a paper calendar on the fridge,” Lauer says. “It can be online, or even an app on your phone. As long as everyone has access and keeps it updated, the household can stay organized.”

Regardless of the reason that brings you together, Lauer says multigenerational living has the potential to be life-changing. “Many families living in multigenerational households are very tight-knit,” she explains. “They can work together and help each other through both positive and difficult moments in life.”

Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management (WIM) is a division within Wells Fargo & Company. WIM provides financial products and services through various bank and brokerage affiliates of Wells Fargo & Company.

Wells Fargo Advisors and its affiliates do not provide legal or tax advice. Any estate plan should be reviewed by an attorney who specializes in estate planning and is licensed to practice law in your state.