You may have experienced sibling resentment as a caregiver yourself - or seen your sibling relationships deteriorate due to disagreements about care. Arguments threaten to flare up over issues like: sharing responsibility for care, methods of care, money and inheritance and emotional problems.
Although these topics could take up a whole book, we’ll go through some of them in this - post and include ideas for how navigate these choppy waters.
Sharing out care responsibilities
One of the most common reasons for siblings fighting over elderly parents is who takes responsibility for the care of mum or dad. Even if all siblings want to help look after their parents, not all have the time and energy to do this. If one sibling is ‘less busy’, they may be expected to shoulder the burden – but this may not be fair or practical.
This could be a conscious expectation, or may creep up without anyone really noticing. The challenge here is that everyone has different commitments and different priorities. Someone who has more flexible work hours, or less childcare commitments, isn’t necessarily able to devote more time to caring, or drop everything to help out on a regular basis.
This situation may be compounded by differences in locations. Children who live further away find it much more difficult to regularly visit and contribute to the care effort. They may want to help but can’t, or may not even realise they aren’t doing their fair share. The sibling who does take on more might assume that the others have just decided it’s more practical - when they never even had that thought.
Solution: It is difficult to decide how to share out responsibilities. A parent’s slow decline may mean you end up in roles without meaning to, and responsibilities unevenly shared. Or, the role may just be assumed out of necessity. It can be a struggle to decide who should do what, and come to an agreement where it feels like everyone is pulling their weight. Communication is the only way around this.
Avoid choosing a caregiver by proxy. If you can, talk about the prospect of caring for your elderly parents before it becomes an urgent matter. If you’ve already fallen into established roles, call a family meeting to discuss how you can find an arrangement that suits everyone better.
Coming up with a ‘care team’ can be the ideal solution to sibling caregiving dilemmas and assigning roles that play to each of your strengths. One sibling can be a point person if they are especially good at handling Mum or Dad at more challenging moments, but this doesn’t have to be the same as the ‘leader’.
Responsibilities can be assigned by role, by time of day, or on a rota. Distinguish between practical and emotional support. Perhaps your brother’s job means he finds it hard to take your parent to their doctor appointment, but he can help boost your morale or contribute in other ways.
This care team can also include external help, such as professional carers, to support the roles that you and your siblings play. SuperCarers is an organisation which helps families find experienced, vetted independent carers to look after their loved ones. They offer free, no-obligation care consultations, if you’d like to find out more.
Resentment over being the sibling with the caregiver ‘burden’
The flipside of this aspect of caregiving and sibling relationships is almost unconsciously becoming the primary caregiver.
This person might live close to mum or dad, or might be the one ‘with the time’. Alternatively, caregiving might be lead by the one perceived to be ‘good at it’. This is not necessarily their ideal choice!
Other feuds can arise over accusations of favouritism (whether founded or not), or perceived “excuses” about why siblings don’t have time to help.
Shouldering an uneven share of responsibility can result in resentment and a sense of injustice. That’s totally normal to feel this way, even if you enjoy caring and feel honoured to look after your parents.
Solution: So you’re wondering how to get siblings to help with elderly parents? Communicate. Ask for help clearly and directly. Perhaps you don’t actually want help, but just recognition of your efforts. This is something you can ask for, too.
Don’t hint, complain or send over articles. If you don’t get the response you hoped for from your siblings, accept this as the outcome that you can’t influence and focus on the things which you can change (yes, we know this is far easier said than done!)
Know that you are doing the right thing, and you will get to share more precious moments from your parent’s final years with them. Siblings who aren’t as involved are missing out on this.
Strained sibling relationships
Siblings often have an ability to wind each other up in a way no one else can, intentionally or unintentionally. Although most get better at dealing with this as they age, this is a high stress, very emotional time. It can bring out the worst in anyone. Grown-up siblings aren’t always content to adopt the same hierarchies as when they were children but it can be hard to break free from old patterns.
It’s not uncommon for long-forgotten rivalries and grievances to come up again. What you shouldn’t do is let this ruin your relationship, temporarily or permanently. You should also be mindful of the effect this has on parents, particularly if they’re ill – no one wants to see their kids argue.
Solution: Now is not the time to solve sibling issues. Don’t expect anyone to change now just because you would like them to. Put your ego aside and focus on what is best for your parent. It’s not fair for parents to have to play the role of mediator when they are dealing with their own health and wellbeing issues. You might need to make sacrifices and bite your tongue to avoid this.
Remember, too, that fear and uncertainty can fuel unhealthy responses. You can’t control your siblings’ actions, but you have the right to set boundaries and can control the way you react.
Contributing financially towards care of elderly parents
One of the most potent aspects of caregiving that can generate sibling resentment is financial contributions.
Ageing parents may be on a limited income and not be able to afford the rising cost of care – things like home carers, assisted living facilities, nursing homes. Children may feel the need to contribute, and ask other siblings to do so as well.
Whether children should contribute towards care cost if their parents cannot afford it is a difficult matter. More controversially, how much should they pay? Should they forgo things they need or want to help ageing parents?
This can be a very touchy subject if siblings aren’t in similar financial situations. Should a high earner contribute more? And what if they have higher living costs, for example if they are supporting a larger family? Further, just because someone appears financially comfortable, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have cash to spare.
Perceptions and reality don’t always match when it comes to money, and different people have very different priorities over spending. What may seem a luxury to one sibling (such as a holiday) may be the other’s idea of a necessity (to maintain their sanity!). It’s also difficult to decide how much financial contribution ever can – or should – count as a substitute for in-person assistance. Also, if one sibling is seen as having the time to look after their parent, others may be reluctant to pay for a professional carer – even though they aren’t able to do the job themselves. It’s highly likely that everyone has a different view of what is “fair”.
Solution: Talking about money with your siblings can be one of the most difficult things to do. Everyone can have different ideas about what they can or should afford, but you can feel like they are being tight-fisted.
Money is a very personal matter and you don’t always know what’s going on with your siblings behind the scenes. You also can’t force anyone to part with their money if they don’t want to give it. It might help if you come up with a budget for the care plan you have in mind to make it very tangible how much is needed and how it will be spent. If your sibling understands, they may be more inclined to contribute. Ask what they think they can give. Listen.
Legal matters: Lasting Power of Attorney
As people age, they risk losing the ability to properly manage their own affairs. Not only is daily life difficult for many elderly people, but memory problems and health conditions mean that they might want someone to make decisions on their behalf.
This is when a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) is useful. The ‘attorney’ will usually be one of their children, or several children. Conflict between siblings over LPAs is common and extremely sensitive.
Solution: If you are considering an LPA, consult a lawyer.
Anna Molter, Senior Associate Solicitor at legal firm Barcan+Kirby, says, “Attorneys need to be chosen carefully – even if they are siblings, it’s a heavy responsibility to bear and it’s entirely foreseeable that they may not agree over certain decisions.
This is where the structure of an LPA becomes important. If the document appoints more than one sibling as attorneys, they may be allowed to make decisions independently or ‘jointly and severally’, meaning they must act together.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each method. Independent power might make it easier for an attorney who is also a carer to make day to day decisions – like booking the dentist – for their parent. Joint decision making would ensure that all your attorneys would have to be involved in a major decision such as selling the house or life support treatment.
It is possible to structure an LPA so that some decisions can be made independently and others have to be made jointly – but how then can this be policed? Will the bank have to check every transaction and who is dealing with it?
The golden rule with LPAs is that if you are in any doubt about how your attorneys will act and whether they can act together – then you need to think carefully about whether they should be appointed in the first place!
If there are real concerns about siblings’ ability to work together as attorneys, then one way forward might be to make an LPA that names a professional such as a solicitor as the attorney – thus providing an independent person to help manage a parent’s affairs.
Of course if an LPA has been created and the parent has already lost capacity, then no further changes can be made to the document. Should this lead to intractable disagreements between sibling attorneys, then the last resort would be to apply to the Court of Protection and ask a judge to intervene.”
Dispute over care needs for elderly parent
Caregiving siblings may fight over conflicting opinions on what is best for mum or dad – especially if they have radically different caring styles.
You might want to give in to mum or dad on the little things, while your sister believes in ‘tough love’. You might want them to stay at home until they pass away, while your brother believes a care home is the only option.
These struggles can be difficult and bitter, especially if the one with daily caring responsibilities feels criticised by siblings who swoop in from afar. It’s easy to mistake suggestions or comments as criticism when you are playing such a tough and emotionally demanding role.
Solution: Remember that siblings will not always get to know the same story. An ageing parent seen by one sibling visiting from long-distance may be able to put a better face on it. The one who cares regularly is more privy to the reality.
Communicate directly and regularly with your siblings so you each have a chance to build the whole story and find out what’s happening. Share care plans and perhaps a care diary so everyone feels involved. Jointly is a great, free app from Carers UK which lets a ‘care circle’ easily share notes, tasks and even medication trackers.
In more serious cases, you might disagree with care decisions being taken by the sibling with the LPA. Anna’s advice:
“If siblings are worried that an attorney is misusing their power or not making appropriate decisions about their parent’s affairs and wellbeing, the easiest way to resolve this is often through honest discussion with the attorney and with their parent – who may have lost the capacity to make some decisions, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a voice in discussions about their own welfare.
The Court of Protection can intervene in situations where there are genuine welfare concerns. It can reduce or remove an attorney’s privileges, or replace them with a deputy – a person much like an attorney, but who is subject to stringent oversight by the court.
However, making an application to the Court of Protection can be expensive, time-consuming and emotionally taxing for all concerned, so should not be undertaken lightly. Getting advice from a lawyer specialising in capacity-related affairs is recommended.”
The matter of inheritance
Unequal sharing of care duties or costs can complicate inheritance plans. If someone has been a full-time carer to your parents for a number of years, they might expect to inherit more than their siblings – especially if they’ve forgone career opportunities. Similarly, if one child has paid more towards care costs they may hope this will be paid back.
There can also be problems if a child has moved into the family home to look after their parents, and does not have another home to return to. They may, understandably, be reluctant to sell up and move on, particularly when grieving.
Solution: Typically, parents will divide up their assets equally between all their children - although this may not make everyone happy. At the same time, unequal inheritance between siblings can lead to feelings of resentment and bitterness, especially if it is unexpected or the reasons unclear.
The best solution is to discuss your parent’s will with them before they pass away, to make sure everyone can understand and respect their decisions.
Anna says, “If a person wants to make a Will which makes different-sized gifts to different siblings, or disinherits someone altogether, I would usually advise them to prepare a side letter explaining why they wish to make such provisions.
For example, this could happen if a caregiver has given up working to look after their parent, and that parent wants to leave them some extra money to make up for the income they’ve lost.
In such situations, it’s important that the caregiver is not present at the client meetings between the solicitor and the parent making the Will. Indeed, they should not be involved in the preparation of the Will at all, in order to mitigate against any possible disputes when it comes to administering the estate.”
Successfully solving sibling disputes over elderly care
The key for siblings fighting about elderly is to confront the issues head-on - which is not going to be easy, and needs to be handled as sensitively and calmly as possible.
Whatever you do, be honest, take into account that everyone is feeling emotional, and try not to take anything personally. Grudges will not help anyone, least of all the person holding them.
Operate an approach where you proactively gain everyone’s feedback and then ultimately you make the final decision. Accept that tensions are going to run high, but hopefully everyone has your parent’s best interests at heart.
This is not the time to try to change somebody’s character or reactions. Consider approaching a mediator if you cannot resolve the issues between you. Accept that you may have to walk away from each other, and potentially consult a lawyer in matters like Lasting Power of Attorney and inheritance.
In an ideal world, we’d all work together harmoniously to give our parents the best end of life in return for the love and support they gave us. It rarely – if ever – works out exactly as we would like it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim high.
If you are arguing with your siblings, or feeling upset or resentful about care matters - don’t forget that you are not alone. It’s normal. You don’t need to feel guilty for being emotional at this tough time.
Remember - you’re not doing this for yourself, you’re doing it for your parents. Focus on what they would want, and pick your battles carefully. Try to stay calm and reasoned. And, most importantly of all, try to stay friends with your brothers and sisters - they are family, after all!