Desperate Sisters do Desperate Things!

Thank you for your blog. I've tried to shorten this story because it's full of complexity, but here goes. My 85-year-old mother resides in long-term care in Halifax. She has been deemed 100% cognitively competent by her psychiatrist who treats her for a personality disorder. My Halifax-sister has made it clear she "has given up enough of her life" as a primary care giver for mom and wants one of her two sisters to take over responsibility in Ontario. My husband and I just spent 8 years caring for his mother until her death last year, and I have a disability so I said no with genuine regret. I do as much as I can for mom and my sister from a distance and have offered to do more. My other sister, in Ontario, has said no, as she's a single mom with an unstable work history.

Halifax-sister has suggested a "radical idea"; Halifax-sister and I could relinquish our inheritances, and Ontario-sister could take over POA and Executrix functions. This would increase my Ontario-sister's motivation to take on duties while also ensuring a better inheritance to the sibling most in need. I think Halifax-sister is making this suggestion out of understandable desperation. Also out of understandable desperation, Ontario-sister is suddenly available for the job.

Just humour me, have you ever heard of such a solution and why does it feel wrong?

Andrea in Mississauga

Hi Andrea:

What can I say? When it feels wrong – it usually is wrong.

I often hear stories from families who struggle with the care of a loved one. Often care gets complicated because we struggle with life balance and managing guilt. Care issues and possible solutions become even more complicated and mixed up when the realities of our own lives (including our own financial situations) become part of the problems to overcome. Sometimes I hear: “How can Mom be taken care so that she is not a burden to us or how can we save some money by getting creative with Mom’s money to solve our own financial issues.”

If I understand you correctly, I assume that you are thinking that your Ontario sister will move to Halifax to assume the roles of caregiver, and some day may be your Mother’s lawyer under the POA laws and then the Estate Executor. Based on my assumptions, I will share with you some ideas.

Let me begin by suggesting that the three of you consult with a lawyer. A lawyer can discuss with you issues such as: claiming fees as a person’s lawyer under the POA laws and how much Executors can charge for their services and whether your ideas of giving up your inheritances is a wise, long term solutions that you will all be happy with forever! For example, in our situation, my sister and I shared 5% as the Executors of my parent’s estates.  It felt like full time work, but we could not get paid for all of the work involved because of the legal “cap”. Knowing what is legally allowed and understanding potential problems will help you understand where to begin. I also ask you to answer the following questions as honestly as possible. When answering, think mostly about your mother, not just your own three situations, needs or wants.

How does your Ontario sister’s lack of job security and instantly availability make her qualified to take on these roles? Just because she is suddenly available, does it mean that she is the best person for the job? Would you hire her if she were not your sister? Are her best qualifications because she is related and needs the money the most? Could those also be her worst qualifications?

Do you all really understand the roles and rules of being a lawyer under the POA laws and of being an Estate Executor? Do you understand the different types of legal responsibilities?

What happens if Ontario sister gets a job (even for a short time)? Will she continue to do these roles? Or, will these new roles “enable” her to not have to look for and secure a job? Having POA responsibilities and being an Estate Executor (sometime in the future for both roles) are not roles that last forever. At some point estates get settled. How will she earn a living after these roles are complete? Will she blame you later for “putting her life on hold and decreasing her future job opportunities”?

How many hours a week will she spend providing care to your Mother and how many hours will she spend in the future to manage her affairs? Is this full time work? Is it part time work? Is it worth moving her to Halifax?

If she assumes the caregiver role now and may in the future also be the POA, knowing also that she is a single mom, who will take care of her kids if she is needed in the middle of night for some emergency? Does Halifax sister #1 come over to take care of the kids?

Did you know that you can hire third parties such as Trust departments at banks to manage the financial side of POA situations and estates? These services are of course not free, but they can be great ways to take the financial responsibilities and burdens off the family. It also ensures that there are no opportunities for financial abuses. In other words, can you always trust a rabbit to put the whole lettuce in a refrigerator?  You may also want to check out our “Special Projects” section of our website.  We have recently produced a very interesting elder abuse series of videos that I hope will be of value to you.

Is your Ontario sister an opportunist? Will these new roles be the solution to her money troubles? Have you ever heard one of Dr. Phil’s favorite expressions: “Money does not solve money problems”?
It sounds like your Halifax sister is truly burnout out and perhaps there are other solutions already in place in Halifax that she can access.. How much care does your mother require for her health and wellness? Have you looked at hiring an agency to come into the long term care home, just for your Mother? I know dozens of families who do this. It ensures another level of care – dedicated care and saves the family from having to do it. Have you looked into how much that would cost compared to paying your sister to be the caregiver + the costs of moving her to Halifax? Again, who is best qualified for the job and why? It took me a long time to accept caregiving from others. I always thought that only family members could really take care of my parents. Well, it can be a very freeing moment when you accept the willing hands of others. I believe that it “takes a village” to care for aging family members. One person cannot do it on their own. It really is a team effort that often requires hiring outside help. Help that can even offer respite care and give the family caregiver a well deserved break. You may be surprised at how great non-family caregivers can be. They may not be perfect, but family caregivers are not perfect either!
What happens if your Ontario sister also gets burnt out? Asking one person to take on all these roles is very difficult. Is it unfair to everyone?

Often families need outside help. Often outside help brings greater clarity, perceptive, sustainable plans and increased peace.

I think the focus should be on who can provide the best care for your mother today, manage her affairs if needed in the future and someday manage her estate. Perhaps these complex roles can be divided up amongst several people, even several organizations. Speak with a lawyer and perhaps even a social worker. Your Mother’s situation deserves the best advice for her care and for the management of her estate. Your mother’s care should not be included in family conversations about dividing up the estate and how to solve financial situations of other family members. These are separate topics, keep them that way.

Good luck Andrea, I would love to be a fly on the wall when you share this with your sisters!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

18 + six =


  1. Mary,

    Your response is full of wonderful suggestions and wisdom. Thank you. I will call the social worker and look into other ways mom’s life can be enriched.

    Just to clarify, my Halifax sister also wants mom moved to Ontario so my sister can be a “first responder” and I can be her support. I have offered to take over financials, which Halifax-sister thinks is great. I call mom twice a day and have been for a year, since she became unwell. No one else does this consistently. I call the nursing station with any new medical issue that arises. As a person with a disability, I’ve learned how to do a lot from home.

    I’m totally against a move to Ontario at my mom’s age because I don’t think it’s in mom’s best interest. She likes where she is overall. She has friends who visit her and the staff know and like her. But Halifax-sister is like a dog with bone on this issue. She wants her out of Halifax, period. Plus Hlfx-sister wants to leave Halifax on trips with her husband for weeks at a time. My mom is getting very anxious at the thought of being without a relative nearby. I’ve come up with an on-call schedule where Halifax-sister and I can take turns jumping on planes in case of emergency, and where my Ontario sister (plus a brother in Montreal) could visit and give her something to look forward to. No, she still wants her out of town.

    The fact is I’m the best person for the whole job. Everyone agrees with that assessment, mom included. I’m organized, can delegate, responsible and know how to handle mom really well (thanks to years of therapy!). I know how to empathize and respect a sick person’s wishes. But my body is a constant obstacle. I have about 110 medical appointments per year, have 12 specialists (ugh) and have been going to doctors’ offices for 49 years now.

    I’m hoping Halifax-sister simply claims unwillingness or inability to continue POA duties and relinquishes Executrix functions because, as you suggest, she’s not fit for the job anymore. I will explore all the services you’ve mentioned. I’ll fly to Halifax and explain things to mom. If she thinks service people are a stressful option (which she does right now), I can’t imagine how a move to Ontario with no friends to visit her and all new care workers would go!

    Comment if you like but you’ve given plenty so I’ll keep my expectations low!

  2. Hi Andrea:

    I totally agree you that moving your Mom would not be in her best interest. Why move her? It is working for her. It is too bad that it is not working for your sister, but so what. It is your Mom’s care that is the important issue. I have heard so many stories of people moving their elderly parents to suit their own needs and not really the needs of their parents. I had an opportunity this winter to chat with two ladies in a seniors’ home. Both are in their 90’s and were forced to move because their adult children thought it would be best. Well these two ladies are lonelier and more unhappy than ever. They had so much to say, I shared their thoughts in my Dear Mary column, called: “I want to go home to my real home”. If you have a minute please read it and share it with your sister. Old people do not do well with change. Moving your mother will not improve her life, actually, I believe it will add to her decline.

    Your Halifax sister sounds overwhelmed with their day to day lives. She clearly needs to “escape on a vacation”. Everyone will benefit from her taking a break. I think you had a great idea to get your brother more involved. He is closer and I assume has less health issues that you do to go visit your Mom. You could plan to have somebody visit with your Mom while Halifax sister takes a vacation. There is no reason why she cannot go on a vacation with her husband. Your sister needs to learn to trust non family members who can pitch in to support your Mother.

    I think that you are a wonderful caring daughter who truly has your Mother’s best interests at heart. Despite your health issues, you are willing and continue to watch over her plus manage the financial side of caregiving. Being a long distant caregiver is not easy and I can truly sense how much you love your mother and what the best for her.

    I think that you have great ideas and have solid plans and ideas. There will of course be bumps in the road, but they too will get worked out. Good luck with not only taking care of your mother but helping to support and educate your Halifax sister so that she can look past her own needs to allow others to step in.

    Please let me know how things go.