Sharing Caregiving Responsibilities Among Siblings

Caring for an elderly parent in declining health is a big responsibility, and one that can have a significant effect on the caregiver’s financial and emotional well-being. Having a sibling to share in that responsibility can make things easier, but it can also lead to conflict and resentment. It is important to understand the issues that may arise when two or more adult siblings are caring for an elderly parent, and the best ways to resolve problems.

One question that usually comes up at the outset is who will be the primary caregiver. If only one sibling lives close to the parent who needs care, that is often the deciding factor. When two or more siblings live close by, then the decision often depends on work schedules. If none of the siblings live close to the parent or have time available, then the question becomes how to divide the expense of hiring an in-home health aide or perhaps an assisted living facility, depending on the circumstances.

Good communication is probably the most important factor in making these decisions. Ideally, responsibilities will be divided in whatever way feels fair to everyone involved, and arriving at the best outcome depends on communication. Siblings should be encouraged to share exactly what they feel they should contribute and why. Factors such as an individual’s family income or work schedule are legitimate concerns that may play into decision-making. Feelings about this should be stated plainly so that later resentments can be avoided. Siblings should try their best not to let old sibling rivalries get in the way. Adult siblings caring for an elderly parent are taking on new roles, and they are best served by not replaying old ones.

In addition to family income and work schedules, siblings should consider each other’s particular skills. If one sibling is a more frugal money manager, it may make sense for him or her to hold the power of attorney for the parent. Someone with experience as a caregiver may do the best job handling day-to-day care. One fact that should not be forgotten is that caregiving is valuable and important work. Siblings who are not involved with day-to-day care may not be aware of just how much work is involved. The caregiving sibling should not be afraid to speak up and share with the others how much time goes into giving care for their parent. It can be easy for a sibling that is contributing more time or contributing more money to feel that his or her contribution is unfair or is going unrecognized. Full and frank discussion is the best solution.

Finally, as with most things, careful planning will save a lot of headaches. Just as mom or dad’s schedule of doctor’s appointments and daily medications needs to be kept track of, so should the finances be kept in careful order. An estate planning attorney or financial adviser can be invaluable in preparing a budget that accounts for the cost of different types of care that may be needed.

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