In theory, it sounds ideal to get any help you can when caregiving for a loved one, and who better to help than a sibling? In practice, however, if not done carefully, tension can boil over, feelings of resentment can occur, and sibling rivalries that have been buried for years can come to a head once more. This is especially true if one sibling lives nearby and the other lives farther away.
Below are some of the most common reasons siblings fight when caregiving:
- Living Arrangements—Determining where or at whose house a parent lives is often a contentious issue. In my opinion, the best way to get around this obstacle is to lay out a plan while your aging parent/parents are still healthy. Figure out if your parent is comfortable moving into a professional setting or conversely, if they’d like to live with one of their adult children, make sure this plan will work for everyone involved. Obviously, the best reason to start planning while your parent is healthy is because no one will have to rush into anything. You don’t want to wait until an emergency necessitates last-minute action.
- Who is paying?As mentioned above, if parents are comfortable living in a professional setting or receiving professional care in their own home, who’s paying? Again, early planning is key because you don’t want to have a medical emergency that leaves everyone asking, “now what do we do?” If your parents have savings and everyone is fine with them using that money to pay for care then that’s great. But, if the opposite is true and your parents don’t have sufficient savings, how will the financial burden be distributed? Each family has unique financial circumstances so there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution, but early communication and a clear understanding of who will pay for what will save major headaches in the long run. Likewise, hiring an estate planner or a senior care professional with knowledge of local benefits can help as well.
- Medical and Legal Decisions—There are many documents that are worth executing while your parent is still in good health. You can use either an elder law attorney or a legal document preparer. Documents such as a living will and a durable power of attorney are a must. This way, everything is laid out long before any last minute decisions have to be made. Follow the link to learn a little bit more about key legal documents.
- Lack of Clarity when Dividing Responsibilities—Even if responsibilities weren’t laid out while your parent was healthy, it’s never too late to clearly outline who should be doing what. Play to everyone’s strengths. For example, if one sibling has more money, but less time to provide hands-on caregiving, maybe they can help pitch in for respite care, adult day care, or in-home caregiving. Likewise, if one sibling lives nearby and the other lives out of state, set a schedule for when the out of state sibling will come into town to give the local sibling a break. Furthermore, keep track of receipts or bills for care related expenses. This will help enormously because you will be able to see exactly how much came out of your pocket and how much came out of everyone else’s. With clear finances, no one will feel like they are paying more than their fair share.
- Communication Breakdown—
This one seems like the most obvious, but communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Most of the time, siblings only talk about caregiving when they think their sibling isn’t pulling his/her weight. Instead of this method, tell a sibling when you think they’re doing a good job too. Changing the narrative from negative to positive can go a long way. If you happen to feel over-stressed, don’t try to keep it in or bottle it up, let them know immediately. You’d be surprised at how often a solution can be found. Also, have family meetings and try to go into those meetings with an open mind. Caregiving requires a lot of patience.
If the care ever becomes too hard to manage or you just can’t seem to agree with your siblings, there are always professionals waiting to help. There are care managers, mediators, physicians, and other elder care professionals who can offer a helping hand if you’re unsure of what direction to go in. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning is an eldercare agency, which specializes in estate planning, benefit application, and placement services for seniors in need of professional care.