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How To Talk To Siblings About Aging Parents – A Step By Step Guide

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You can still remember the days when you and your siblings were young kids Didn’t it seem like those time would last forever? Now, though, you’re both adults with older parents. Your brother or sister may be in denial about your parent’s state, which is unfortunate, since you need them to step in with caretaking or helping to pay for it.

How do you begin to talk to your siblings about your aging parents? For this conversation about aging parent care, you will want to:

  • Bring it up at an appropriate time and place (no sneak attacks allowed!)
  • Share with them stories, medical reports, hospitalization records, and any other evidence that your parents need care
  • Ask for your sibling’s input and really listen to their response
  • Use outside help if you can’t come to a resolution with your sibling 

In this article, we will explore the sensitive but often necessary topic of asking your siblings for help with caretaking for a senior parent. We’ll go into more detail on the steps above and discuss your options for dealing with a stubborn sibling. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll have all the info you need.

How Do You Talk To Your Siblings About Your Aging Parents?

As everyone gets older, families don’t often stay together in the same city or even state. Your sibling may have moved away to go to college, for a job or for a romantic partner, or maybe “just because”. But you stayed in the area, so you see your parents a lot more than your brother or sister.

Now, you realize that you need a hand with caretaking and it’s only fair that you would want your siblings to help out. For a productive discussion with them, read through these steps carefully and implement them as closely as possible.

Step #1: Plan The Conversation At A Mutually Convenient Day And Time

Your elderly parents’ care is an emotional matter for you. However, blindsiding your siblings about their need for care, and then pleading for help likely won’t go over as well as you could hope. Instead, it’s best to pick a time and place where you and your siblings can meet – in person – to have the conversation.

Make sure all your siblings are involved in the conference. If some live out of state, then plan for this meeting well in advance so your brother or sister has time to make travel plans.

You should also schedule the meeting in the state where your parents live so that your siblings can visit them and see why they now need care (maybe your parents are too frail or they have memory issues or health concerns). As the saying goes, seeing is believing.

Sometimes seniors can change drastically in a short period of time without an adult child being aware of it. It may be a shock if your sibling has been talking to your parents all along and Mom has been saying, “Sure, everything is fine, dear.” Seeing the changes will help your sibling understand why you are saying your parents need help.

Step #2: Prove The Need For Care Through Hospitalization Records, Medical Reports, Stories, And Other Evidence

If you are the only one currently caring for your elderly parents, then you will likely do most of the talking during the meeting. If it’s you and another sibling who are dividing their care between yourselves, you can split the speaking duties.

Although it may not be easy, you will want to stay calm while you are stating your case. Prepare to get some push back as you begin talking about your parents’ need for care. Younger siblings might refuse to accept that their parents have gotten older. Other siblings who don’t see your parents as often might not believe that their situation has gotten so severe.

This is where it helps to have paperwork to back up your request: if you can share hospitalization records, medical reports, and stories from neighbors or other family, you’ll want to do so now. It will be hard for a sibling to dispute that a parent needs help if medical reports show that they’ve had three injuries in the past six months.

Step #3: Let Your Siblings Share Their Thoughts And Ideas About Caring For Your Senior Parents

Allow the emotions to die down a bit, because tensions will be high if your siblings have been caught off guard. Remember that when you realized your parents needed help, you probably went through a bit of shock yourself. Let your brothers and sisters take some time to adjust to this news.

When everyone is calm, ask your siblings for their thoughts and ideas. Could you all genuinely band together and split caretaking duties? Is it more realistic for the local siblings to take over the physical care and let the out-of-staters visit and pick up the slack from time to time?

Step #4: Listen To Their Response Without Interrupting Or Squabbling

No matter what your siblings say, let them talk until they have finished their thoughts. If they have been respectful of you, you will want to give them the same courtesy.

Know that you might not agree with their ideas, and that’s okay, but try to keep the conversation civil. If it devolves into arguing, nothing will get solved.

Step #5: Seek Outside Help If Necessary

You might not be able to come to an agreement with some stubborn siblings. We’ll talk more about your options later in this article, but we would at least like you to know you have them.

What Is The Responsibility Of The Family For The Care Of The Elderly?

You may be wondering if your siblings are legally obligated to take care of your aging parents. What about yourself?

The short answer is, “it depends”. Certain states have what’s known as filial responsibility laws. With these laws in place, the adult children are responsible for paying for the care of their older parents. Once known as the Elizabethan Poor Law in the 1600s, the filial responsibility laws do not apply to every state. However, most of them – 30 states – do have such laws on their books. It follows that not every state with filial responsibility laws enforces them – in fact, 11 do not.

How does the filial responsibility law work? In short, if an aging parent finds themselves unable to pay for assisted living, medical bills, shelter, clothing, food, and other expenses, the adult children must step in and cover their costs.

There are caveats to these laws, as you might expect:

  • In Nevada, the adult child must have made a written promise to take care of their parent. Otherwise, they’re off the hook.
  • Once parents turn a certain age, you don’t have to pay towards their care if you’re in Connecticut.
  • In Arkansas, adult children have the responsibility to pay for mental healthcare only, but not for any other elements of care.

We recommend that you read up on the filial responsibility laws in the state in which your parents live. It could be that your siblings are obligated to contribute financially to your parents’ care.

Even if they’re not legally obligated, one would hope they’re morally obligated. After all, these are the people who raised you and your brother and sister. Your parents gave you a lot, which is why you don’t mind helping them in return – and why you would hope your siblings will feel the same.

READ MORE: Does My Elderly Parent Need Assisted Living?

Family Disputes Over Elderly Parents – What To Do When Siblings Won’t Help With Elderly Parents

What if some of your siblings don’t feel the same way about caring for an elderly parent? They may think it’s better (and easier) to stick your parents in a nursing home or let you bear the brunt of their responsibility. That’s not really fair, so it’s worth trying to get your sibling to do their part.

Here’s how to handle these family disputes:

Mention The Familial Responsibility Law (As Applicable)

If you do happen to have a familial responsibility law in your state that mandates the adult children should pay for an elderly parents’ care, then that is the first thing to present to your brothers and sisters. It is pretty cut and dried from there – your siblings should step in and financially contribute or they risk breaking the law.

Implore Them To Help

If you don’t live in a state with familial responsibility laws or if you reside in a state where these laws aren’t enforced, then you will need to appeal to your siblings. Remind them of everything your parents have done for them, for you, and for the rest of your family. Tell them the least they can do is to help out now.

Sometimes, however, a sibling might have a valid reason for not helping. For example, distance could be an issue. If they live hours away, it will not be realistic to expect them to come by every day and do caretaking. In a case like this, you will have to meet them halfway. For instance, instead of them physically helping with care, perhaps they can contribute financially.

Hire An Eldercare Mediator

If even this softer, gentler approach doesn’t work, then you may need to seek an eldercare mediator. This professional can step in and draw up a resolution between you and your siblings. They can meet you with you wherever you decide is necessary, such as at a senior living facility, in an adult child’s home, or in their own office if that works for everyone.

The eldercare mediator will listen to all sides of the conflict. They will keep siblings from getting into the kind of petty infighting that can detract from the real goal of getting your aging parents help. Mediators never side with one person over another. Instead, they want to come up with a solution that benefits the parents but also works for all the adult children.

You do have to keep in mind that an eldercare mediator might not draft a plan that you necessarily like. For the sake of your parents, though, it’s best to work with them. Your siblings should do the same.

Consider Taking Legal Action Against Siblings

The eldercare mediator might have come up with a plan or solution that your stubborn sibling agreed to at the time. Now that it’s time to start doing what they said, however, your brother or sister is not living up to their end of the bargain. What can you do at this point?

Well, you could try going back to the original mediator. You could also try working with another eldercare mediator, but keep  in mind that the results may be the same.

If you don’t think your sibling will change, you might decide to look into legal action.

We do recommend this is as an absolutely last resort. Once you go through the legal system to get money from your siblings for your elderly parents’ care, there’s no turning back. You could possibly ruin the relationship with your brother and sister for good. For this reason, you should exhaust all other options before you go this route.

Conclusion

Having a conversation about your aging parents with your sibling can prove incredibly frustrating and difficult. They might not want to help, either with their time or financially. You have a few options at that point, such as appealing to them yourself, using an eldercare mediator, or even going after your sibling legally. The latter can destroy your relationship forever, though.

Having to care for your adult parents is already difficult enough. Dealing with a tough sibling on top of it all makes it worse. Hopefully, if you have siblings, they’ll want to do what they can to help.

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