As parents age, those old feelings of sibling rivalry can often make a surprising re-appearance.
Almost everyone over a certain age has heard war stories from friends engaged in bitter battles with their siblings over the care and financial assets of parents whose health or mental capacity is deteriorating.
“You can be a happy family and then with the sudden arrival of aged care issues, it can lead to an implosion.”
“It can expose the enmity and jealousies between family members. Often all the children will not be on the same page about what to do, so it just destroys the family.”
With US research showing nearly 70% of adult sibling quarrels focus on inheritances, parental care responsibilities and financial support, it’s not an unusual situation either.
So how can you avoid things getting nasty?
Start the conversation
The secret to keeping a lid on things is to try heading off problems before they arise.
“This avoids the crisis management syndrome, which is very common. It’s usually only then that people start discussing these issues, but that’s when things can be very emotional,”
A better idea is to discuss how your parents will be cared for, well before the need arises.
“Aged care complexity knows no bounds and it’s an issue that breeds an avoidance mentality, but it’s important to discuss it and develop a family plan of action.”
While it can be an uncomfortable conversation, the topic is unlikely to arise on its own.
“Parents are reluctant to talk about it, so children will need to raise the issue.”
Work together, not individually
It’s vital to involve everyone in the conversation – and the subsequent family plan – otherwise it can create suspicion and resentment.
“Do it collaboratively, rather than individually, so it’s not seen as being done out of self-interest. If the family are all involved, it can help keep everyone together.”
Talking about things gives your siblings time to consider potential care options and the financial implications of ageing parents.
“Without preliminary discussions before a crisis, children can find themselves unexpectedly having to contribute financially. This leads to problems if they haven’t anticipated having to do it and they may be forced to rearrange their assets to pay for mum or dad’s care.” explains Herd.
“If some siblings are forced to stick their hand in their pocket – or have to pay more than others – it can lead to an even bigger cleavage within the family.”
Develop a family plan
One of the key ways to avoid a blow-up is to develop a plan outlining the family’s discussion and decisions around parental aged care.
“With a plan, everyone knows what’s going to happen and agrees how it will work. The decisions should be in writing and shared with the entire family.”
Learning about the aged care system is another vital step.
“Knowledge is important in understanding the options, creating a plan and working out how it will operate.”
After the family conference, encourage your parents to seek in-depth professional advice from a financial adviser or lawyer on the available options and their financial implications.
This is essential if care is going to be provided in a family setting.
“You need legal documents covering the situation if mum or dad is moving in with one of the children, which many families see as the preferred option.”
This approach has financial incentives as it can help preserve parental assets, “But it needs to be fully documented to avoid problems later on.”
7 tips for avoiding sibling arguments
- Start talking early – don’t wait for a crisis, raise the topic of aged care with your parents and siblings well before there’s a problem.
- Involve everyone – talk to your siblings first, then raise the issue with your parents as a united front.
- Get informed – learn about the aged care system, potential costs and the available care options.
- Develop a family plan – document the family’s decisions about parental aged care and finances.
- Don’t let past conflicts interfere – try to discuss the issues openly, avoiding re-opening old wounds.
- Keep it about your parents – put your parents’ wellbeing at the centre of the conversation and work towards the common goal of helping them.
- Ask for help – if communication is difficult, seek assistance from another family member or an outside expert.
We have referral partners that can help clients with parents that may be in need of age care or assisted living requirements. Please call Coeus Advisers on (07) 3910 5679 to discuss.