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Why caring for an elderly parent can damage sibling relationships

When elderly parents become ill, disabled or develop dementia and are no longer able to care for themselves, their adult children often take on the responsibility of caring for them — particularly if the other parent is deceased. However, when there's more than one child, that doesn't necessarily mean that the responsibilities are divided equally.

In fact, one author of a book on this topic says that 90 percent of the time, one sibling takes on the bulk of the responsibilities. Sometimes, this is because that sibling lives closer to the parent than the others. However, often, the author notes, the level of responsibility each adult child takes on — or doesn't — "has a lot to do with the relationship they have with their parents."

Experts have found that "favorite" children tend to become their parents' caretakers — sometimes damaging their own careers and relationships as a result. Meanwhile, their siblings, who never felt they were loved as much, are content to stay away. Sometimes, since they have little or no contact with the parent beyond phone calls, they're able to convince themselves that their parent isn't so bad off.

That can be a source of simmering resentment among siblings that can continue long after the parent is gone. However, it still must be decided how best to ensure that a parent is cared for when they require more than a family caregiver.

Nursing homes, assisted living and in-home caregivers cost money. Siblings may disagree on how much to spend. As one author of a book on the legal aspects of senior care says, "Money is a big, big issue, particularly when there may be enough left for inheritance after the parent passes."

Experts recommend getting an assessment of a parent's needs from an impartial professional and working with a mediator to determine how best to spend the available money.

Of course, it's best when parents can make their wishes known about their care while they're still able to do so. That can lessen the burden on children and the chances for conflicts that can rip families apart.

This can be done as part of your estate plan. Having long-term care insurance can also help ensure that you can afford assisted living or nursing home care if you need it. With experienced legal guidance, you can plan for a comfortable future without being a burden to your children.

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