In our practice we see many different family situations with many different family dynamics. Sometimes there is are multiple caring adult children trying to do their best for their aging parents. Sometimes we have an only child adult caregiver who might lament that they wish they had a sibling or two to help “shoulder some of the burden.” In the ideal situation all siblings will work together (in the same direction) to care for their parents. However, the presence of a sibling can complicate caregiving in unexpected ways. We have seen the following types of siblings (and of course some are a hybrid or blend of more than one category:
The “Disappearing Sibling” will fail to shoulder any of the work. He will be too busy with his career or family to actually pay any attention to the parents. He may live in Naples or Fort Myers but might as well be in California for all the support he gives. He will defer decisions to any other sibling who is already acting on the parent’s behalf in order to keep himself free from responsibility. This does not mean that he will refrain from criticizing decisions later.
The “Out-of-Town Sibling” will have an automatic excuse of distance to excuse her lack of attention to the parents. She might try to be involved with the parents through phone calls, frequent cards, etc. From her distant residence she might like to give helpful tips about how you could manage the situation better. Or she may come forth with questions such as “Are you sure mom has dementia?” If you are lucky she might even make once a year trips to Naples to “give you a break.” You should expect that those visits may be her opportunity to express displeasure with the way you are managing mom’s care. It is almost as if she thinks you deliberately “let mom get this way” while she wasn’t looking. No decision or arrangement is too big or small for her to think of improvements if she were doing the full-time caregiving.
The “Finances Sibling” is willing to help with managing dad’s finances but does not want to be involved in decisions about actual caregiving. He can provide a lot of support in paying bills, investing funds, and otherwise dealing with the money. However, problems can arise if he does not see the need for some of the paid caregiving services that you want to have in place. Also he might not understand the need to re-tool financial accounts to prepare for a potential Medicaid or VA application.
The “Parasite Sibling” actually lives off mom and dad, often in their own home. She will believe that she is entitled to have their funds support her own lifestyle since she is giving up her own life in order to live in. There are of course many dedicated and helpful live-in adult children; I do not take lightly their sacrifices. How the Parasite is different is in the use of the parents for her new livelihood.
The “Abuser Sibling” goes even further by actually stealing funds from mom. The Abuser often starts out as a Finances Sibling but at some point decides it would be a good idea to help himself to some of the funds. Maybe he justifies this as a jump-start on his inheritance or maybe some crisis in his own finances left him feeling desperate. Either way he goes beyond his intended role to actually break the law and become a financial abuser and exploiter of the elderly. (Florida has special laws on this subject.)
I haven’t even talked about the half-sibling situation! Many of our seniors have remarried after a death or divorce. They will often have “his kids” and “her kids” who may have very different backgrounds and expectations about caring for the aged. These differences may be aggravated if one partner came into the marriage with more funds and failed to execute a Florida-appropriate pre-nuptial agreement.
So there are a variety of reasons why it may actually be easier to be an only child if you are faced with caregiving decisions for an elderly parent. Often people find our firm can provide creative solutions to dealing with the maze of planning issues families face. If you would like to discuss your unique situation please feel free to call us at 239-434-8557.