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Sibling Rivalry – Solving Family Disputes When Caring for Older Loved Ones

By Anthony Cirillo April 04, 2021 Caregiving

Family disputes over elderly parents are more common when multiple children are involved. Siblings may be wondering how to protect the money of elderly parents from a financially dependent brother or sister.

Relationship tensions may escalate if an adult child living with parents becomes overbearing or controlling. One sibling may be taking on the load and not receiving help. How do you juggle these responsibilities and tensions?

The Issues

There are potentially two kinds of situations that develop. Assistance with care and the potential abuse of loved ones by a sibling.

A sibling may say they have no time to help. There is an insinuation that the primary caregiver has all the time in the world. Primary care providers (mostly women but a growing number of men) often have to quit jobs or face obstacles from their employer. We have covered many times the issue of caring for the caregiver as many caregivers put themselves and their wellbeing last.

Siblings may say they can’t afford to help. There is validity there. Family caregivers are usually not paid. This affects their current and future financial state. If you are not paying into Social Security (U.S.) then your retirement may be underfunded.

Another “excuse” is not being able to bear seeing mom and dad in that condition. Well, they have probably seen you in dire straits at some point and were likely there to help.

Often you end up with one sibling stepping up. But is it the right one? When one caregiver lives with a loved one or is close by, there is potential for abuse – physical and financial.

How to Ask for Help

  • Be direct with your requests to your siblings. Implied requests or subtle hints are not sufficient for siblings to realize that they should step up. If they have never cared for an older person, it may be hard to understand and anticipate a caregiver’s or senior’s needs.
  • Sit down and create a list of realistic tasks. Divvy up responsibilities according to each person’s strengths. Let them choose what they want to tackle.
  • Keep everyone in the loop. There are now websites that let family members collect all the information in one place. Convene regular family conferences.
  • If you are being ignored, you have to move on and seek out other sources of help.
  • Most importantly, find a balance between caring for your parent and maintaining your own well-being.

Solving Disagreements

What if siblings disagree on the care for mom or dad? Siblings may argue about paying for care or how much care is needed. An outside opinion can help. Arrange for a geriatric care manager to assess the situation.

Consult your parent’s primary doctor about recent deterioration and developing physical challenges. Neighbors may be noticing something. Even postal workers, contractors, delivery people could be observing signs.

Consider a mediator. Sometimes a neutral third party is the only way to calm the situation. Consider the National Family Caregiver Support Program or your local Area Agency on Aging. A doctor or geriatric care manager can also mediate.

Signs of Trouble

Sometimes one child takes over the caregiving role and leaves other family members in the dark, perhaps even limiting access to the elderly loved one. If your sibling is acting as a gatekeeper and prevents you from reaching your parents, there may be abuse or exploitation involved.

Here are some telltale signs:

  • Unexplained signs of injury
  • Reports of drug overdose or apparent failure to take medication
  • Signs of being restrained
  • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration
  • Unsafe living conditions.

Your aging parent may be the obstacle too, threatening or attempting to manipulate you when the topic of outside care is broached. Recognize this as a sign they need professional help. This can lead to a divide between siblings who want to follow their parent’s wishes and those who know it isn’t feasible.

You may find that the parent you’ve been close with your entire life is physically threatening or verbally abusing you, and your siblings won’t believe it’s happening.

Of course, there is the potential for financial abuse. That is why it is important to plan before the crisis.

  • Budget for long-term care needs.
  • Consider long-term care insurance.
  • Write a will.
  • Complete a living will that specifies end-of-life wishes.
  • Appoint powers of attorney, or durable powers of attorney, to carry out your wishes.
  • Know about inheritance and estate issues in mom or dad’s state/country in advance.
  • Do estate planning.

At the end of the day, a lot of this comes down to simple communication and transparency issues. It was pretty straight-forward for me as I was the only child left to care for mom, my sister pre-deceasing her. My wife had three siblings all working together for the care of her mom and dad before they passed.

What about you? Are you facing sibling rivalry in the care of mom or dad? Are old, long-standing relationship issues surfacing? How do you handle them? Please share any helpful tips that may help our community tackle sibling issues.

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The Author

Anthony Cirillo is founder of Sage Stream, the Senior Entertainment/Education Network and president of The Aging Experience, which helps people and companies prepare for aging before it becomes a crisis. A health and aging expert, professional speaker, and media influencer, he is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Anthony serves as a Policy RoundTable member for Nationwide Financial and Bank of America.

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