Mortgage payments, home modifications, medical expenses, insurance costs, basic living expenses — the financial burden of caring for an aging parent is a large one.
According to AARP’s Family Caregiving and Out-of-Pocket Costs Report, 78 percent of family caregivers incur out-of-pocket costs. In 2016, family caregivers spent an average of $6,954 as a result of caregiving, typically about 20 percent of a caregiver’s income.
In families where one sibling is the primary caregiver, it’s common that the other siblings shirk responsibility because they feel like they don’t have the money to contribute to the cost of caregiving.
Let’s be real: Most caregivers “don’t have the money.” If your siblings aren’t chipping in for a parent’s care, you’re probably bearing some resentment.
How to Talk with Family and Friends
In her newest book, Your End of Life Matters: How to Talk with Family and Friends, Anne Ziff offers tips for how to communicate about common caregiving challenges. An assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York and a licensed marriage and family therapist, Ziff is an only child, but she’s counseled countless siblings through tough conversations.
But before you set up a family meeting or call your long-distance sibling on the phone, you need to have some ground rules.
- Focus on the big picture. In the short term, you might want your sister to split the bills or at least contribute to smaller purchases. But keep in mind the end goal, which should be to work together to make sure your parents get the care they need. When you keep your loved one’s needs at the forefront, it helps keep things in perspective so you can more easily have a conversation that gets into the details of which sibling can provide which types of support.
- Don’t play the blame game. Your brother might have a hard time hearing what you’re saying, and vice versa. Try to not get angry or blame others for your feelings, but don’t feel like you have to say, “It’ll be OK,” either.
- Know when to call it quits. Emotions can run high with siblings. This is a hard time, so have compassion for yourself, and try to have compassion for your siblings. But if someone starts acting out of emotional needs or fighting old battles, take a timeout.
How to Ask Your Sibling to Chip in for a Parent's Care
Once you’re face to face with your sibling — whether across the dining room table or across the country on Skype — Ziff suggests opening with a little praise.
Open with Recognition
By acknowledging your sibling’s contributions, you’re setting yourself up as partners who will tackle the problem together.
Ziff suggests starting with some like: “I wanted to talk about Mom’s care since she broke her hip. To start with, thank you for staying with her the last time I was away. Since I’ve been back, things have been working well.”
State the Problem
Then, state the problem straightforwardly and provide some insight into how the costs of caregiving impact your personal finances.
Ziff suggests: “I’m starting to feel exhausted. I’ve been running over to Mom’s to help with meals. I don’t expect you to do that because you’re four states away, but I need help here. I need money to get a caretaker to come in.”
Ask for Help
Next, ask if they will help you figure out a reasonable care-sharing strategy. You’re probably not fully aware of your sibling’s financial obligations and resources, so collaborating can help your sibling realize how much time caregiving requires.
Ziff suggests: “That’s going to cost $100 a week. What do you think you could contribute?”
“If you get pushback, you have a problem,” Ziff says. “But there are alternatives helping financially.”
Split Up the Caregiving
See if there are ways to involve them — especially ones that make the most of their strengths. If your brother can’t contribute financially but is good with numbers, perhaps he can assume responsibility for your parent’s finances, such as dealing with health insurance providers and paying bills online.
Make a Plan
This conversation is just the first step. Now you have to make it happen. Sum up the conversation so the goals are clear for all siblings.
Ziff suggests: “So we’ll split the costs of the in-home caregiver 70/30, with the option to revisit if our situations change, and we’ll also Skype weekly to discuss Mom’s care.”
Hopefully, everyone leaves the conversation with a positive feeling and reminder of the big picture.
What To Do If They Still Refuse
Find support and help elsewhere. If you have responsible cousins, a stable spouse, or even a best friend, they can often provide emotional or practical support. You don’t have to go it alone: Support groups, blogs, and friends who have been caregivers themselves can provide a place to vent or to find help and support.
For more tips about how to talk with family and friends about caregiving challenges, how to get more caregiving help from your siblings, and how to keep your job while caregiving, download our Solutions to Common Caregiving Challenges eBook.