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Siblings Caring for Parents

The parent who has always cared for their children is now in need of their children to care for them. For various reasons the financial costs and emotional toll rests with one, or sometimes two siblings, while the others family members look the other way. Although each situation is different, both adult children and parents can make adjustments to relieve some pressure from an already difficult situation.

For *Gregory, the middle child of four, the obligation of helping his middle-aged parents is so heavy that he is willing to do whatever they ask of him. His parents always considered him more responsible than his two older brothers, (his younger sibling is only a teenager), and in their financial time of need, they turned to Gregory. Even though he is not really in a position to help financially, at age twenty-two, he is putting his plans on hold and his good credit on the line. His parents have asked that he purchase a home for them, (putting the house in his name) after their home was taken due to foreclosure. He is hoping for the best but is anxious about the mortgage payments since his father only does odd jobs for income. However, since he was the only sibling able to help at all, he feels that he has no choice. They need him and he loves them and feels duty-bound.

Adult child – if the other siblings cannot help the parents, make sure the help given is according to your current means. For instance, Gregory could have helped his parents get into an apartment rather than take on all the responsibilities and legal obligations of a home. Gregory could have also purchased a home of his choice and allowed his parents to live there with him until they get on their feet. It is okay to reason out the situation, offer different solutions, and when necessary, give yourself permission to say “no” to your part in your parent’s plan.

Parents – Sometimes parents need help and it is not unusual for them to turn to their responsible adult children. Parents should continue to make decisions based on what’s best for their children, even if their children are adults. Never stop parenting just because the kids are grown.

In Gregory’s case, his parents pressured him to fulfill their wants rather than their needs. They needed a place to live but with the two of them, (the teenager is away in college), they wanted it to be a new home purchase. Gregory’s concerns were not taken into consideration.

*Sara has a different story. Her mother, who is elderly and mentally ill, needs round the clock care. Sara’s siblings offer financial help, but never make good on their promises, so Sara’s is left to pay the bills. Her siblings believe she is better off financially than the rest of them so they feel justified when they do not contribute.

Adult Child – When agreements are made of this nature, put the details in writing, and then have all siblings sign it. Sometimes just having it in writing can help clarify and solidify what is expected of each party. If necessary, look into legally enforcing the agreements. Unfortunately, this option will most likely cause additional family problems.

Parents – Make plans in advance of your senior years, such as making a type of living will, healthcare proxy or an advanced directive. This way, if you are rendered incapable of making decisions, your wishes are made known, removing the burdens of the decision making process from your children (especially in regards to your health). It also allows you to name someone in particular to make your decisions if you are unable. For instance, you can appoint your youngest child as the decision maker if you prefer, even though your oldest child may expect to be in charge.

Another example is if you want your home to be sold and the proceeds go towards your care to alleviate financial burdens from your children. With a type of advanced directive, your wishes can be carried out, even if some siblings may oppose it because it reduces their inheritance.

(It is also important that parents make a will which details their wishes after their death. Sibling relationships have been damaged because of differing opinions ranging from burial to inheritance concerns).

It’s difficult to imagine any parent wanting or expecting to be in the position of needing help from their siblings. However, the reality is many parents (and siblings) do find themselves in such a position at one time or another. Siblings also have the extra stress of coordinating decisions with each other and many siblings are not willing or able to engage themselves in the process. Unfortunately, there’s no way to change the heart and mind of another person, even if they are your brother or sister. If this case, the best advice an adult child can live by is “Do what you can, do the best you can, because it’s all you can do.”

*name changed

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