How do Adult Siblings Share Responsibility for Senior Parental Care?
As a person reaches late adulthood and their mental and physical faculties began to decline, the responsibility for care often falls on their children. At this stage in life, children often represent the most important relationship in an elder’s life. When the time comes to decide where the caregiving responsibility will fall, confusion can ensue as to how this responsibility should be divided.
Sibling conflict is all too prominent in situations where decisions must be made about the parent’s care. When adult siblings feel that they are overburdened with career and social relationships, hesitancy to take part in caregiving responsibilities may occur. This results in a conflict among siblings. Dissention can often lead to one sibling shouldering all of the responsibility of caring for the parent. This is the worst-case scenario and can easily be avoided if all parties remain level headed and have a plan for this situation in advance.
The best way for siblings to decide how to divide caregiving responsibilities is to plan in advance before the need for action arrives. This is a difficult subject for many people to broach. Discussing the diminishing capacities of a parent is uncomfortable. The reality is that the parents and children are reversing the lifelong roles of caregiver and protector. This is a very unpleasant realization for many adult children, but sorting out this out ahead of time ensures a smooth transition into these roles.
Advance planning should involve equal input from all siblings and the parent. It is best to put the negotiated terms into writing in case any questions arise in the future. Consideration should be given to what will be expected from each sibling in terms of responsibility. This is a good time to focus on the individual strengths and weaknesses of each sibling. Members of the family should not be expected to offer support they are not equipped to provide. Advance planning leaves little to chance and secures a gentle transition during an emotional time. Additionally, if the planning is done fairly all parties involved will be happy with the results.
Support comes in many different forms. Children can offer their parents psychological, financial, emotional, and social support. The responsibilities of offering support should be divided between siblings according to their ability to provide.
The greatest support a child can offer their elderly parent is social support. This includes visiting them at their assisted living residence or inviting a parent to live in their home. When deciding where to place a parent who can no longer live on their own, great consideration should be given to the preference of the parent. Some elders may prefer to live with their children and some would be more comfortable in an assisted living facility. Siblings should thoroughly research local facilities and interview proprietors. If the decision is made for the parent to live with one of the children, a lengthy discussion should take place to decide where the parent will live. No sibling should feel they had their parent unfairly thrust on them.
With the recent financial crisis, the retirement funds of many elderly were completely wiped out, leaving their children with the full financial responsibility. Social service programs exist to supply financial aid to struggling elders, but this often does not cover the full cost of healthcare and living expenses leaving the bulk of the burden on the children.
Financial support is often the most contentious topic among siblings. It can be difficult to provide financial support to elderly parents and support a family and still have enough left over for retirement. Planning ahead of time allows children to set up a fund that can be gradually paid into, allowing interest to accrue. If the parent lives with one of the children, the others should shoulder the bulk of the financial responsibility. With appropriate care and planning, this transitional time will be much smoother.
John Roberts is writing on behalf of The Hamptons, a luxury retirement community which offers independent cottage and apartment living options in Tyler, Texas.