The financial burden of caring for an aging parent is a large one. If your siblings aren’t chipping in for a parent’s care, you’re probably bearing some resentment. Research shows that the inability to work together in important areas such as money can lead to a deterioration of sibling relationships.
According to an Ameriprise Financial Family Wealth Checkup study, the top three topics that lead to sibling conflict are:
- Whether one sibling supports his or her parents more than the other siblings
- Whether parents are being fair in their financial support of their children
- How an inheritance is divided
Siblings share both genes and family environment, but research shows siblings are similar in personality only about 20 percent of the time. It’s no surprise many siblings approach money differently, too. Ameriprise found that nearly 65 percent of boomer siblings approach financial situations different than their brothers and sisters.
If you and your siblings are struggling to agree on how to approach money matters when it comes to family caregiving situations, here are five tips from senior care experts.
1. Determine Priorities & Goals
“The earlier families can have the conversations about caregiving, the better,” says Crystal Thorpe, a Professional Family Mediator and Co-Founder of Elder Decisions, in Norwood, Massachusetts, and a Co-Author of Mom Always Liked You Best: A Guide for Resolving Family Feuds, Inheritance Battles & Eldercare Crises.
If your parents are healthy and you have a close relationship with your siblings, now is the time to carefully consider caregiving roles and responsibilities and to allow everyone time to get on the same page. Consider calling a family meeting to assess what financial matters you and your siblings will need to manage together, such as helping your parents take care of bill-paying, taking time off to provide care for aging parents, and paying for long-term care.
2. Keep Communication Lines Open
You won’t have just one conversation about money and caregiving.
“At one meeting, it might be looking at how to support Mom or Dad’s independence when they are no longer able to drive or how to help support their continued social life,” Thorpe says. “Later on, it may be how to help them be physically comfortable. The decisions are different. What’s common is that you’re taking the time to slow down and to hear from each person — your parent, your siblings, and any others involved — what’s important to them before you make decisions together and put an action plan in place.”
Having honest financial conversations often can help avoid misunderstandings that can have a ripple effect through your entire family.
“Care plans continually need to be revisited,” says Barry J. Jacobs, a Clinical Psychologist and Health Care Consultant and Author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. “That ongoing negotiation, adaptation, adjustment, respect, pulling together as best they can to get things done — that’s how siblings’ relationships are strengthened.”
3. 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.
4. Set Responsibilities
Sibling expectations for sharing care responsibilities do not necessarily translate into equality in types or amounts of care provided. Contributions to parent care are often diverse and uneven.
“Try to match responsibilities with people’s skill sets and abilities,” Thorpe says. “One sibling might have more resources in terms of time, skill, and interest when it comes to providing physical care. Another might not have that interest but be really successful at work and have more financial resources available. Siblings can contribute in different ways.”
5. Ask for Help
Money is a delicate topic to discuss. It’s OK to ask someone to help guide the conversation. Financial advisers, family therapists, social workers, geriatric care managers, elder mediators, or faith leaders can help families through tough situations. Sometimes it takes an unbiased third party to resolve conflicts, focus conversations on the present, and find solutions that everyone can accept.
“In these situations, having all family members work with a single adviser is often a good idea,” says Marcy Keckler, Vice President of Financial Advice Strategy at Ameriprise Financial. “That approach will allow the adviser to listen to and understand everyone’s unique viewpoints. It can also help the adviser create a comprehensive plan, one that addresses everyone’s needs and concerns.”
For more tips about navigating adult sibling relationships, download Brothers and Sisters, a guide to resolving sibling conflict when making assisted living decisions.