1. Community
  2. /
  3. Seniors
  4. /
  5. Self-care
Find Senior Care

How to Resolve 3 Common Senior Care Issues Siblings Fight About

Belinda Hulin
March 20, 2018

Defining caregiving roles and agreeing on a financial plan are frequent sources of stress for many siblings. 

Roxanne Greene's* beloved father was ill. Her mother, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, needed help finding him treatment and end-of-life care. Greene researched, visited and priced-out numerous facilities, finally settling on a nursing home a short drive away from her home.

Greene's father died within a couple of months, and soon after, her mother's behavior became more erratic, and more dangerous. Stove burners were left on, doors weren't locked, meals went uneaten. Her mom was no longer capable of living alone. Amid alternating bouts of complacency and hurtful accusations, Greene moved her mother to a memory-care facility where she eventually suffered a stroke and died.

The entire ordeal lasted just over two years. During that time, Greene was chauffeur, business manager, caregiver, health advocate, insurance mediator, maid, errand-runner, legal surrogate and daughter to her parents. She built relationships with everyone who came in contact with her caustic mother, trying to soften the verbal assaults with homemade cookies. She planned two funerals. She did everything an only child should do.

But Greene isn't an only child. Her sister, who could easily afford plane tickets, lives several states away and her brother is only a two-hour drive north. Yet both were absent.

"My sister sent checks. My brother emailed excuses," Greene says. "I was determined to do the right thing by my parents, because I didn't want to have any regrets. But honestly, I never felt more alone in my life."

Need more help? Find an elderly caregiver for your loved one

The Three Main Sibling Stressors

Unfortunately, that's not an unusual situation, says Francine Russo, author of "They're Your Parents, Too". Her research on siblings and caregiving shows that in 90 percent of families, one sibling shoulders more of the caregiving burden.

  1. Roles and Rivalries
    "Recognizing and taking responsibility is not always in a person's psyche," says Russo. "Each sibling was brought up with a different relationship to the family, to their parents and to their own responsibilities. Sometimes, the way people behave has a lot to do with the relationship they have with their parents."

    Russo and other experts say the child who felt most loved by the parents or the one who self-identifies as the "good" son or daughter might be more likely to take on the primary caregiver role. The child who took the most browbeating, or who feels like a disappointment, or who feels ignored would be less willing to extend themselves to a needy parent.

    Roxanne's reward for being the "good" daughter? Her consulting business tanked, her friends stopped asking her to lunch, and her 20-year marriage fell apart while she focused on her parents. Oh, and she didn't speak to either of her siblings for almost a year after her mother's funeral.

    "They both had tried to convince themselves that I had everything under control -- that I was the sister who 'handled' things. In reality, they just didn't want to face my mother. The problem is, while they were avoiding Mom, they were also abandoning me."

  2. Sharing Responsibilities
    Care.com elder law expert Harry Margolis says when it comes to dividing care-duties, there's no cookie-cutter solution that will work for all families. "Every family is different, so every family has to work out the best arrangement for them," he says. "I think I've seen just about every arrangement. One sibling handles legal matters while another handles personal care and medical questions, while a third does the shopping and maintains the house. In many cases, the effort can't be equalized, especially if some siblings live close to the parents while others live far away."

    Margolis notes that any sibling who actually lives under the same roof as elder family members will, of necessity, provides more hands-on care. In the interest of fairness, that sibling might be compensated financially. "Or, the other siblings might contribute their vacations to move in with the parents and to permit the caretaker child some respite," he says. "In large families, I've seen adult children get assigned different days of the week that they sleep over at their parents house to provide the necessary care."

    Brette Sember, author of "The Complete Legal Guide to Senior Care," agrees that "shared responsibility" can mean different things to different families. She says the best way to avoid major sibling discord is to communicate; to meet in person or on a conference call and put all cards on the table.

    "Acknowledge that everyone has different abilities, resources, and availability," she says. "Try to break things up into zones if possible -- medical, bill paying, cleaning, food, transportation, legal, assisted living search, laundry. Give everyone some kind of responsibility, even if it means writing a check or calling mom once a day to be her sounding board."

  3. Spending and Needs Assessments
    Sember says she's seen plenty of otherwise-rational adults torn apart by end-of-life care for their parents, and often the accelerant for the arguments is money. Siblings may disagree about how the parents' money should be spent for care -- in-home aides vs. assisted living vs. nursing home care vs. allowing the parents to move into one sibling's home.

    "Money is a big, big issue, particularly when there may be enough left for inheritance after the parent passes," says Sember. "All the sibling resentment you dealt with as a kid comes roaring back at this time. This is the time when power struggles in families come to the forefront."

    Sometimes, says Sember, the disagreements stem from a lack of understanding of the parents' real needs. What one sibling witnesses may be different from what another hears when talking on the phone with the parent, or when they drop by for a casual visit.

    "If you can get an outside assessment of what the parent needs, you will have a third party senior care advisor recommendation of how money needs to be spent," she advises.

    Russo agrees: "An outside social worker or a mediator can say 'Here's what your parent needs. Here's what's available. Now what are you each willing to contribute?' Having that outside observer can really help siblings take an objective view of the situation." 

Both Sember and Russo say the healthiest and least-conflicted families are those where the parents' wishes are known. "In the best circumstances, Mom and Dad lead the way. They set the model for how disagreements within the family are handled, and they let their children know what they want," says Russo. "When caregiving issues come up, families need to get together early and they need to meet regularly, while Mom or Dad can still contribute and say what they would like and discuss the resources that are available."

"Siblings should try to look at each other as the adults they are now," says Russo. "Everybody has grown up. Everybody has a life. Don't assume that you are all the same people you were as kids. You aren't. The oldest is not necessarily going to be the lead caregiver and the youngest isn't necessarily the one who can't function without supervision. Look at what you each have to offer today."

* Note: Names have been changed.

Elaine in Saline, MI
July 16, 2017

My 4 sibs and I take turns staying overnight and helping our elderly parents, especially with Dad who has dementia, COPD and incontinence.  Mom has severe arthritis. She does not want pd. home care to supplement our care or to hire anything like lwan care, snow removal, house cleaning (in fact when we tried this she fired the caregiver).  Sibs cannot do it all! Mom criticizes Dad and talks about past issues with him.  We tell her we can't do anything about that and we are here to help them both.She also criticizes much of what we do to help, like when we don't cook the exact way wshe does or don't put every item back exactly where tit came from when dusting. None of this is new, but we're all together more often. And of course Dad's needs continue to increase. One sib, who lives the closest to our parents and is the one Mom will listen to, does a lot to maintain the home and yard and some care of Dad. But he has a history of bullying the sisters, having meltdowns in public and having very little patience for anyone, including our parents, who does not do what he says.  He had not spoken to sisters in years, nor does he attend any family dinners, reunions, holidays etc.  He will not communicate with us to coordinate the care schedule, but berates those of us who need to take a break. We tried home care to supplement our own so we can take breaks, vacations etc.  Brother convinced Mom, who didn't want it anyway, to fire an excellent caregiver and continues to berate sisters. Mom berates us if we say anything to him.  She wants us to be quiet and accept the wsay she and brother treat us. Example, brother arrived while sister was helping Dad clean up after a bm. Brother swore at her, called her stupid.  I told my Mom that this is not working for me so I am taking a break.  I will visit but that is all.  I'm trying to get my head straight on all fo this.  Two sisters still work so they cover two weekends a month.  Thrid sister feels mistreated, as I do.

Geof in New York, NY
July 14, 2017

Poor Roxanne.  For two years, after her father dies she took are of a mom with Dementia… Roxanne was chauffeur, business manager, primary caregiver, insurance mediator, maid, errand-runner, legal surrogate and dutiful, loving daughter.  And then was rewarded, how?  Not terribly well!

Sadly enough, a typical sibling story, where parents’ death and illness and estate and inheritance are concerned – and where failing personal finances are concerned while dealing with the death of a parent, dealing with an estate, and an ailing remaining parent.

In fact finances and emotional matters, sibling relationships,  are so bad for so many middle class siblings while an estate goes through probate… waiting for an inheritance that seems to be taking forever, possibly trying to sell a probate property that still needs work… that many heirs throw up their hands and decide to borrow money against their inheritance… with an inheritance advance or probate advance, probate loan or inheritance loan… from an inheritance loan company, choosing from one of several of the most popular online probate loans companies that lend on inheritance, furnishing loans while waiting for inheritance.

It is however very interesting how heirs that know very little about finances or inheritance cash advance assignments, or inheritance loan fees or inheritance advance rates, learn really quickly how to research loans against an inheritance,  loans based on inheritance, or inheritance loan advances… In the form of probate loans, inheritance advances or inheritance advance loans, regular probate inheritance loans, or probate real estate loans, as soon as they can complete an inheritance advance or probate loan application from online probate loan or probate advance companies that have been around for years,  such as www.heiradvance.com, or www.inheritancenow.com,  or inheritance advance company www.inheritanceadvance.com  – rather than waiting a year or two for probate to finally end. I think this proves how rough it is these days for working families, for siblings, or daughters, like Roxanne Greene. For most middle class heirs.  Motivating a lot of heirs don’t have much on the way of sibling support, or other family support, to take as much of their inheritance money as they can as soon as they can… and do something productive with that probate cash in the immediate present, not in a year or two when probate finally closes.

It does sort of make sense emotionally and financially, if we step back and look at it objectively… Hey, why waste a year or two withering on the vine, so to speak.  Why not feel better about ourselves with a solid fast cash windfall in hand… and forget worrying about unfriendly, ungenerous siblings.  It’s amazing what an infusion of cash will do for peoples’ attitude and confidence and sense of well being.  

March 12, 2015

My father is getting to the point when he needs to live in a senior care center. I have heard that it can create a lot of problems within the family so I am doing research so that i can be a step ahead of all of that. I agree, it is really important to recognize and understand the different sibling roles and try and share the responsibilities as much as possible.

July 16, 2012

Ive worked with seniors since I was 17yrs old, Im now 55. Ive always enjoyed being around them and helping them, in nursing homes and in home care. now that my fathers needing help, i feel at a lost on who I should really be looking for to help him out.

Leave a comment

Create a free account with Care.com and join our community today.

Sign up