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What are accessory units?

Accessory units are one option for caring for a loved one who is somewhat independent but not capable of living completely on his or her own because of medical issues, disabilities or issues of mental capacity. Accessory units are typically built within an existing home or on the property of the home -- you might hear them called mother-in-law houses.

Accessory units can be stand-alone structures or private quarters within a home. They might include all the amenities of a small apartment, such as a kitchen and private bath. Because families often decide to custom build such additions to their home or property, accessory units can be designed with the needs of the person in mind.

One of the biggest benefits of an accessory unit is that it allows an older person to live somewhat independently while still being in close contact with loved ones. Adult children can provide support and care without infringing on privacy or encouraging a loss of independence. Someone might still cook and clean for him or herself, for example, albeit on a small scope. But that person has adults nearby who can check in on him or her and drive him or her to appointments or other locations if needed.

Another benefit of such a situation is that it allows older individuals to spend their remaining years close to children and grandchildren. This is often an arrangement that can create lasting and enjoyable memories for all.

Disadvantages of accessory units are that they are costly to create and require construction. You might run into zoning laws and other issues. When you are working to choose appropriate care planning options for yourself and your loved ones, understanding financial needs, insurance and legal options and medical requirements can help you choose the best possible situations for your loved one and family.

Source: National Caregivers Library, "Accessory Units," accessed Feb. 26, 2016

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