Your mom and dad are getting older. Maybe their memory is deteriorating.  Or they’ve lost some of their mobility and the time has come to get them some in-home care. Before this happens, though, you need to ask yourself: Do they understand the contract they are signing with the caregiving agency? A couple I work with did not.  Now they are on the hook for at least $40,000.

It all started when the wife’s caregiver approached her with what seemed like a money-saving proposition to work for her off the books. She assured my client that the caregiving agency approved of this plan—something which is unheard of in the home care industry. Without exception, every agency I have ever worked with has included a non-compete clause in its contract that forbids the caregivers from undercutting its business by picking off clients in such a manner.

But the truth is that many older Americans sign contracts without fully understanding them. Their kids are far-flung across the country.  Many of their friends have passed away.  And if they have memory or vision problems, they have no way to read or retain the details of the contracts they are required to sign. Caregivers pick up on that.  The less-scrupulous ones see this as an opportunity as opposed to a challenge. I’ve written before about this “elder abuse with a smile,” where home aides befriend their clients with ulterior motives.

In this case, the caregiver’s ulterior motives led to the caregiving agency filing a lawsuit against my clients for breach of contract. A lawsuit that can only be settled for $40,000.

I explained the home care industry to my clients’ daughter on the west coast.  She was at a loss to understand why her mother was being sued by the very agency that was supposed to be helping her. I recommended in the future she have her parents email or fax to her any contract that they are being asked to sign. Or else hire someone to take on a fiduciary role with her mother and father.

Communication is so important when dealing with aging parents. In my experience, a lack of communication—specifically an unwillingness, or a sense of taboo, about discussing money—is a  key factor in so many cases of elder abuse.

Your parents gave you the world. Don’t assume that by hiring an in-home aide for them your debt is repaid. They still need someone to look out for their interests in all matters, including finding the right help.