It’s not always easy, yet you can do this well with a little help.

Discussions about how much things cost can get sticky. Likewise, discussions about your parents’ care can get quite emotional. Discussing the cost of their care with your family or siblings can, when not handled right, lead to heated disputes and broken relationships

Siblings, who are not directly responsible for a parent’s care, sometimes raise questions about how much money is being spent and why.  Their concerns can also be about whether such care can be done better for less. Sometimes, they believe that they could reduce care costs by taking over or bringing your parents home to live with them.

Why have the discussion?

When concerns arise, it’s better to talk with family members about them, rather than ignore them.  Questions can turn into misunderstandings, leading to resentments and then to more negative outcomes. Such issues can damage family relationships and last long after your parents have passed.  Don’t assume you can patch up relationships later. Remember, the end goal is to protect your parent’s well-being, physically, legally, and financially. If your parents are safe and well cared for, you’re on solid ground. However, focusing only on that objective, and ignoring your other relationships, can ruin all your goals.

Getting ready

Before you have any such discussions with family members, you need to be clear on some things, such as understanding why you were chosen over others in your family, or why you agreed to take on such responsibility. An objective self-assessment may be one of the hardest things you can do. Ask yourself if you’re controlling your parents’ welfare for their betterment or for yours? Or both? Whatever your motives are, others will see it. If they believe your motives are self-centered, you may be in for quite a fight.

If your parents are safe and well cared for, you’re on solid ground. Standing on firm ground is one thing.  Heading into a battle is another, and one you want to try and avoid, even if you’ve been at each other’s throats since you were kids.

Before you have that conversation with your sibling(s), take time to organize how you want the conversation to unfold. Knowing in advance what you and they want to discuss allows you to get your facts together. Facts help to counter emotions.

Be prepared to lay out what’s been done, costs incurred, and what’s coming. Be especially prepared, with detailed information about costs. Your siblings may only want to know the big picture.  Getting into the weeds, such as daily costs for things like Depends may be unnecessary, but you don’t want to seem like you don’t know. Think about getting support:  Sometimes, having a competent, neutral party can help with financial guidance and better explain the what and why details to your siblings.  While you’re still the one responsible, an outside expert can help everyone make better decisions, if needed

Having the discussion

Do not assume what their motives are. Listen to your siblings’ questions and try to understand their feelings. Watch their reactions during your conversation.  They may be driven by their own fears or misunderstandings about the situation. Any emotional backlash on your part will only invite angry and defensive responses.  Remember to stop, breathe, and think before replying to their questions.

Listen and refrain from responding too quickly:  Let them express their concerns and feelings. If tears or emotions start to run high, try to stay calm and composed.  Remember your goal is to work towards a positive outcome, not to win an argument. No matter how emotionally charged, it’s necessary to handle any conversation with intelligence and appreciation for their perspectives. As such, it’s a good idea to handle any conversation with patience and intelligence. Although decisions are often made by emotions, they are validated with facts. Again, the end goal is to protect your parent’s well-being, physically, legally, and financially. 

However, you want to understand why you are being challenged. You’ll need this information to frame further discussions. Importantly, you need to figure out if their motives are well-meaning or selfish. That is, are they more concerned for your parents’ welfare, or for their own.

If their intentions are well meaning, they may simply be challenging what they don’t know. If you’ve been managing your folks’ care for some time, you already know how exhausting and time consuming it can be.  It’s important to explain (without whining) how the past weeks, months, or even years have gone for you.  If there has been an impact on your personal life, career, and finances, it’s time to get that out, too. Explain, in detail, what’s been done.  

The discussion, at this point, should be about their condition and how much care they need right now.  Not being day-to-day involved, they may not be aware of your parents’ current and growing medical and care needs.  Now is the time to bring that out. Push through their denials by referring to what medical experts and assessments have revealed. Also, discuss your parents’ needs going forward, against what finances they have, and what it will take to keep them comfortable through their final days. Again, remember to clearly (and patiently) counter emotions with facts.

Lastly, agree to give updates, if you and they agree that such details will be helpful to keep things clear.

They may be challenging you because they think there are better ways. Stay open-minded about alternatives and other approaches to what’s best for your parents’ care.  This means putting any ego, pride, or self-investment aside. If you’ve been doing this alone, you may have missed out on better ways to do things.  If you desire to control things, remember that your way is not as important as doing what’s best for your parents. Now is the time to get their suggestions and solutions. One way to get this input is to lay out the care challenges you have been facing along the way. Don’t automatically shut their ideas down, but carefully weigh, with them, the pros and cons of their ideas.

Once discussed and mulled over, if it becomes obvious that they are right, prepare to make adjustments and test out their suggestions.

They may be challenging you because they can and want to contribute more. Most of us want what’s best for our parents and others we love.   Listen to how they think they would manage the same situations. If all is working well, and your siblings want to play a bigger role in providing care, then create a plan together where you can share this responsibility.  You can still be their primary fiduciary as noted in any legal documents.  However, you can share the emotional and physical care.

If your sibling insists on wanting to take over, explain in detail the complexity and responsibility involved in elder care. It’s not just about managing finances, but also about ensuring your parents’ physical and emotional well-being.

If you want to find ways to divide and share more care responsibilities, you might suggest a “trial” period that would not disrupt your parent’s living situation.  You and they might even enjoy spending more time with your sibling(s). This could help relieve some of the time you spend caregiving. This new co-support relationship might even bring everyone closer. 

If their reasons for challenging you are not about your parents’ best interest, (ill willed), you may have to take different approaches. They may be focused on what’s best for them or simply interested in preventing you from having control. Their interests may stem from fear of losing out (parents’ love, inheritance, income,) an emotional need to fix a parent relationship, or from past power struggles with you.

If this is the case, (hopefully not) you may be able to deflect or work to stop their actions by hiring an attorney, mediator, or other professionals your parents put their trust in.  An attorney, with experience in these matters, can guide you through what options you have and what actions are needed, if any.  In some cases, good attorneys can step in and diffuse emotional challenges.  Your family’s situation is likely not the worst they’ve seen.  Discuss what to expect next so you’re not caught off guard by a sibling’s replies or actions.

If it ALL goes South (Negative)

Just because you’ve been entrusted with control over your parents’ affairs and well-being, doesn’t mean it’s absolute. Siblings who don’t get satisfaction from you, may seek it elsewhere. There are some legal ways to challenge a Power of Attorney or Trustee designation.  Also, parents who are of sound mind can sometimes be convinced to change their minds. Right or wrong, it’s their decision. 

In most cases, you’ll likely win the contest, if winning means keeping control. You may lose that sibling relationship, forever, though.

In some cases, you may lose. If your parents’ care remains the same or gets better, the loss hasn’t been for them. You should comfort yourself with that. If not, you need to decide whether to keep fighting or start your grieving process.

Afterwards (Positive)

Now that you and your sibling have an understanding and agreement and are working for the same outcome, don’t shut the door and go back to your old ways.  Keep the lines of communication open.  It’s easy to fall back to the old ways.  Find things to laugh about, remember, and celebrate the parents who loved and protected you for so long.

Focus on your parent’s well-being and safety.  Keep your siblings focused on your mutual goals.  Stress that you both love your parents and want the best for them, as they did for you over the years. 

Just remember: when caring for an aging parent, every day counts.

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