“We don’t want strangers taking care of Mom!”
“We promised Dad he would never have to go to a nursing home!”
“If you really love Mom and Dad, you should be able to keep caring for them at home!”
Ah, siblings. Some are a joy—our very first and forever friends in life. Others are more of nuisance, a source of drama that comes and goes over the years. But when a parent falls ill or needs additional help as they age, these family relationships are truly put to the test.
Some adult children work seamlessly together to find the best care solutions for their aging parents. However, some siblings don’t contribute at all, leaving the heavy lifting, sacrifices and difficult choices up to one adult child, often a daughter. Still others are involved sporadically, only deigning to give their opinions when pricey care decisions are on the line.
In the latter scenario, these siblings disprove of respite, are suspicious of outside caregivers and demand to keep their parents’ bills low. They don’t want to entertain the thought of hiring professional caregivers or moving Mom or Dad to assisted living or a nursing home because outside care is expensive. To make matters worse, they wholly oppose paying a fair wage to their siblings who have taken on the role of primary caregiver.
When siblings begin emphasizing cost reduction strategies and encouraging the provision of unpaid care, primary caregivers usually reach an unfortunate realization: these family members are not interested in what is best for their parents or even what is fair to them as carers. The driving factor is preserving Mom and Dad’s wealth in the hopes of receiving an inheritance.
A Caregiver’s Experience Weighing the Costs of Quality Care
While I didn’t have to battle my siblings over money, I know first-hand what happens to an aging parent’s savings when their needs increase and in-home care or senior living must be considered. As a family, we wanted the best possible care for our parents. For much of the time, I was capable of providing that hands-on attention and supervision. However, the time came when a nursing home was the only option, first for my father and then for my mother.
Even after their placement in a local skilled nursing facility, I was still their primary caregiver. I visited with them every day, made sure their wants and needs were personally taken care of, and was their advocate and watchdog. My parents were fortunate that they had saved enough money over the years to pay privately for both of their rooms in the nursing home. The downside for them was that all the funds they had hoped to leave the family were used to pay for their care.
Would my siblings and I have loved to receive a little inheritance? Of course. My parents desperately wanted to leave us something, but it simply was not meant to be. My siblings and I understood that this was necessary. I could no longer continue to care for them at home and my siblings could not assume this task for various reasons, so we were determined to secure quality care for them elsewhere.
For some families who face decisions like the one mine did, things don’t always go as smoothly. I frequently get e-mails from people whose siblings are happy to let them step up to the plate and handle all of their parents’ care. Yet these same siblings put up a fight when the primary caregivers wish to make changes to the care plan that require even the smallest amount of money.
How to Deal with Greedy Siblings
Another glaring issue with siblings like these is that they are all too happy to volunteer you for caregiving duty and criticize requests for outside help, but they don’t show up for visits with Mom or take Dad to his many doctor’s appointments. They don’t know how many medications you help your parents manage. They don’t care about how difficult Mom or Dad has gotten over the years. They could really care less that you haven’t had a break from caregiving in weeks, months or even years. They voice serious concerns for your parents, yet they aren’t willing to get their hands dirty (figuratively or literally) or open their wallets to help.
Nobody really agrees to become a caregiver with the expectation that their entire life will take a back seat to their responsibilities. Furthermore, nobody expects that their siblings will fight against every penny needed for elder care and caregiving supplies. Guilt trips abound if you ask for financial help or use your parents’ money for their own care. You hate to admit it but your siblings care more about preserving your parents’ cash for inheritance than they care about the elders’ quality of care or about your quality of life. It’s ugly business.
Sometimes facing reality about one’s kin is hard. Money issues can cause what seemed like a fairly normal family to descend into a whirlwind of accusations, hurt feelings and greed. In some cases, things may escalate to unfounded reports to Adult Protective Services (APS) or lies to turn family members against one another. Particularly nasty cases call for strong boundaries and perhaps even going no-contact with greedy family members. When it comes to a divisive topic like finances, it’s wise to seek professional back-up to protect yourself even further.
Legal Planning Is Crucial for Caregiving Families
The best way to help prevent caregiving decisions like these from becoming problematic is to take a proactive approach to legal planning. Having medical and financial powers of attorney (POAs) in place is crucial for a senior to enable a trusted individual (usually an adult child) to make decisions on their behalf. Unfortunately, though, aging parents sometimes incorrectly anticipate which child will step up to become their caregiver or how the appointed person will manage their healthcare and finances.
In particularly difficult scenarios, an aging parent may have given two (or more) children joint powers of attorney, meaning they must both (all) approve of any decisions made on their parent’s behalf before they can legally be carried out. Another conundrum occurs when one child is given medical POA and another is given financial POA. Essentially, the sibling in charge of health decisions must still receive approval from the sibling who controls the parent’s finances to fund any changes in care. Both these arrangements highlight the importance of carefully considering POA designations.
If a parent’s POA selections are not allowing for the provision of quality care and prudent financial management, and the parent is not mentally competent to change their POA designations, then the only option is to seek legal guardianship of the parent. Guardianship can be a long, expensive and trying process for families to go through, but it is often required to cut through difficult family dynamics and provide proper care for an aging loved one. Guardianship may also be necessary for an incompetent parent who never obtained any POA documents.
Primary Caregivers Should Obtain a Caregiving Contract
When one adult child steps up to care for their aging parent(s), it is usually under the assumption that the arrangement is temporary. All too often, permanent and/or long-term plans aren’t put in place, leaving this family member at a serious disadvantage. Missed days of work and the costs of incontinence care products, food, and transportation to doctor’s appointments all add up. What was initially a short-term offer for help can turn into a months-long or even years-long obligation. A caregiver’s own health and financial situation can rapidly decline. Without any guarantee of payment or reimbursement, many are left in worse shape than their aging parents and with no savings left for their own retirement once caregiving ends.
This is where a personal care agreement comes in handy. Most people believe that caregiving should be done out of love, and it often is. Self-interested siblings often cling to this notion and use it to guilt caregiving siblings into continuing their work unpaid. However, the depth of a caregiver’s feelings for their care recipient doesn’t change the fact that they are providing a very expensive service entirely for free. Drawing up a contractual agreement is an excellent idea for family caregivers who need to be compensated to avoid running their own lives into the ground. This agreement stipulates the exact services the family caregiver will provide and the compensation that they will receive from their care recipient.
While it may seem odd for your parent to pay you for their care, working with them to put an agreement into writing while they are still of sound mind can save you a great deal of hassle down the road. Seeking a sibling’s approval for payment after you’ve already spent months or years caregiving for free is often a dead end unless legal guardianship is also part of the proceedings.
Stand Your Ground on What’s Right
Somehow, you must find a way to stick up for yourself and ensure you parents receive the care they deserve. Keep meticulously detailed records while you are providing care. If you must buy your parents clothes, pay for respite care or cover the cost of a senior living facility, do it. Your parents’ money is to be used for their own needs and care. If your siblings threaten or attempt to manipulate you or your parents, then you may need counseling or even legal help. Don’t be bullied into making decisions you don’t agree with.
Just remember to take care of yourself. No inheritance is worth your life, and no sibling worth having a relationship with would want you to sacrifice everything for them to get some money in the end. Most families aren’t this extreme, but the correspondence I receive from fellow caregivers suggests that this issue isn’t uncommon. Be thankful if you are from a loving family that puts the elder and even you, the caregiver, above the money. But if you aren’t so lucky, get legal help. You deserve it.