Four Conversations to Have with Siblings Before Aging Parents Need a Caregiver


One of the biggest challenge caregivers face is dividing duties and decision-making amongst siblings. An aging parent who needs care can, inadvertently, wreck sibling relationships. And that’s the last thing a parent wants to do in the last years of their life.

Handled properly, however, caring for an aging parent can bring siblings closer together, not rip them apart. Proper preparation is the key. Having crucial discussions before a parent needs round-the-clock care, when you can see the writing on the wall and know the day isn’t far off when you’ll need to discuss care options, can help make decisions easier and keep siblings acting as friends and allies in the fight to keep an aging parent happy and comfortable.

Here are four aspects of senior care to discuss with siblings before it’s too late.

Division of Duties, or Who Can Do What… and When
The title of primary caregiver often falls to the eldest child. But this isn’t necessarily the right choice. Similarly, the burden of caregiving may fall on the sibling who lives closest to the parent, simply out of necessity.

Evaluate your roles in the family before your parent needs care. Even though the oldest may have been the “take charge” type in earlier years, maybe they have young children of their own, a very demanding job, or limited financial means. On the other hand, maybe a younger sibling has the lifestyle and income to be able to take on care of the parent with less disruption to their own life. Don’t automatically assume the eldest should become the decision maker and primary caregiver. The job should fall on the sibling or siblings who can, and is most willing, to provide the level of care the parent needs.

Remember, shared caregiving duties, when possible, can alleviate stress. Having someone to share the workload makes things easier. But it’s important to discuss exactly who will do what, and set the intention to create a schedule when the time comes. Important duties, from lawn maintenance to doctor’s appointments, shouldn’t be skipped just because everyone thought someone else was taking care of it.

Your Parent’s Wishes
Obviously, your parent’s wishes, in terms of where they live and who provides most of their care, must factor into the decision. The time to have this discussion is now while your parent still understands the implications of what you’re talking about and can provide informed opinions and feedback.

Does your parent want to age-in-place as long as possible or would they prefer a nursing home or assisted living community? Is it okay – and is the money available – to bring in home care if they want to age in place, and can you implement technology, from monitoring systems to home automation, to make it easier for the parent to live independently longer?

You’ll also want to have a discussion about money available to care for the parent, and how much of the burden of paying for senior care will fall on adult children. If your parent doesn’t already have a will, this discussion could also include the first steps to drawing up a will.

Who Will Manage the Money and Pay for Senior Care?
While this is part of the conversation you’ll have with your aging parent, you should also have a frank discussion with siblings.

Often, the child who provides care is also the one who manages the money if a parent isn’t able to. This is the child who gets power of attorney for the parent’s affairs. It’s important to honor a parent’s wishes as far as how money is divided, both before their death and after.

Who Makes Decisions About the Parent’s Care?
Often, the person controlling the purse strings and also providing the most care for the parent feels they have the right to make all the decisions. Discuss how much feedback other siblings can offer and how much say they can have in the care of their parent if they are not the primary caregiver.

This can get especially complicated if children are sharing caregiving duties. Who gets the final say? The possibility of hiring a mediator or arbitrator is always available if siblings can’t compromise or work together to make the decision that’s best for the parent.

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