All in the Family: Siblings, Caregiving and Money

How to set sibling rivalries and differences aside to care for aging parents.

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Nearly everyone with siblings probably experienced some degree of sibling rivalry as kids. And now, many adult siblings are facing a new challenge – how to become united for the sake of their aging parents. As brothers and sisters confront their parents’ declining health, financial and emotional stress and differences in personality can cause old stereotypes, jealousies or resentments to resurface. Since different siblings’ financial circumstances and knowledge can vary widely in adulthood, family money issues can be an unexpectedly difficult part of caregiving.

If your parents are experiencing health issues, it’s important to figure out how you can put any differences – financial or otherwise – aside to work toward the common goal of caring for your mom or dad. Here are some tips to help you and your siblings (or other caregivers for your parents) manage the financial aspect of caregiving together.

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1. Assign a primary coordinator for financial tasks. It’s easy to streamline tasks when one person is accountable for managing the finances, but keep in mind that others should be informed and involved in financial decisions. Have an open conversation about who will do what, when and what support will be needed from others. Be precise about who is responsible for financial tasks. For example, specify who will tackle bills, day to day banking, investments, insurance and taxes. And don’t wait until the last minute-having a clear plan with the roles and responsibilities of each sibling determined ahead of time can be helpful as your parent’s situation changes or worsens.

2. Be aware of differences in money styles. Keep in mind that everyone has different attitudes towards money and money habits. For example, one sibling may work to determine the most cost-effective way to help in caregiving duties while another may splurge on services that your parents don’t necessarily want or need. Make sure you have a comprehensive idea of your parents’ current financial situation before you begin discussing and making decisions with family members and caregivers. Having the facts in front of you can help everyone take an objective approach based on the funds available rather than their money personality.

3. Discuss and respect everyone’s circumstances. Siblings who live in different areas and have different professions, family obligations and resources may not all be able to contribute equally on any front, including finances. It may not be possible for all siblings to take time off from work, pay for travel expenses or contribute to nursing care or bills. While it may be hard, talk with your siblings about what you can and cannot do or afford in order to maintain your own financial health. But, for your parent’s sake, try to respect the reality of each person’s financial situation, and accept what each person thinks they can contribute.

4. Don’t stereotype based on childhood roles. Maybe the oldest of your siblings was the take-charge person or youngest child considered the dreamer growing up – but that childhood stereotype may no longer fit your sibling. Reverting to childhood roles may only create problems or increase indignation in adulthood. Give your siblings the benefit of the doubt, and ask them to do the same for you. Just because the younger one could not balance a checkbook in college does not mean he or she has nothing to offer today in terms of financial management or resources – or other talents to contribute.

5. Ask for what you need. If you are the primary caregiver and need help with funding mom or dad’s expenses, time off from caregiving, or assistance with medical or financial management issues – ask directly for it. The worst that can happen is that your siblings say no. If you are not the primary caregiver, ask how you can help. Part of maintaining your own financial and physical health is working to reduce your stress.

6. Communicate – often – in a structured setting. Unscheduled calls, emails and texts can tell partial stories and leave some people out of the loop. Set up regular times to talk as a family on the phone or in person. You may consider asking some of the professionals your parents work with – doctor, legal professional, financial advisor, etc. – to join you when it makes sense. Having an actual agenda with factual reporting on financial matters (as well as medical or day-to-day health and activities) can help everyone remain on track and informed. An agenda can also provide the opportunity for open discussion if some of these things are difficult to talk about within your family.

Unfortunately, disagreements among siblings about the financial aspects of parental care can cost time, energy and money when your parents need your support most. Don’t let financial differences or stresses trigger old rivalries and get in the way of creating the best possible caregiving scenario for your parents. Communicating openly and often are the best bet for keeping the peace – and creating a supportive environment for Mom and Dad.

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De Baca is vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.