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August 07, 2012

Preventing family fights over eldercare

You all love your parents deeply. But you and your siblings may not always agree on how to care for them. Here’s how to avoid such family squabbles.

It’s a common story: an aging parent who has two children needs extra assistance. One child assumes the brunt of the care while the other is on the sidelines, usually due to distance.

But what happens when the siblings can’t agree on eldercare issues? For instance, the child who is the caregiver wants to hire some external help but the other sibling won’t help to pay for it. Here’s how you can avoid such family squabbles.

The first order of business is to start talking early. Sit down with your parents to discuss their intentions before something happens. Questions to ask include what would they want to have happen if they were to become incapacitated? “Parents who are not communicative about their financial plans have the potential to set up a family fight after they are gone,” says Karen Henderson, founder/CEO of the Long Term Care Planning Network, a Toronto-based company that educates consumers and financial advisors about aging and long-term care-planning issues.

Next, ensure that parents have set up wills and powers of attorney. If your parents already have those documents, family members need to know where this information is stored and why certain decisions were made. “Even if you have your documents in place, siblings might not know the true intent of the wording,” says Kathryn Jankowski, vice-president of T.E. Wealth in Toronto.

Henderson concurs. “If Susan is a single daughter and she’s helping Dad, then if Dad is going to give her a bit more money, he should tell everybody why that is.”

Parents might procrastinate about getting their affairs in order, which is why Henderson recommends considering asking a trusted third party to get involved as a mediator, such as a family accountant or close friend – someone who has no vested interest in the family money or possessions. She says, “They are more likely to work with somebody like that.”

If one sibling becomes a parent’s primary caregiver, Henderson recommends that person send out a regular email notifying all family members of the aging parent’s progress. “If any family money is being spent for care, here is the opportunity to share this with family members to avoid possible accusations of financial wrongdoing,” she says.

The caregiver should also keep a regular diary of everything done for the aging parent from dressing her, to attending all appointments, to meal preparation. “Once you share that diary, there’s often a huge wakeup call for the siblings who are away,” she says. “The kids often say, ‘I had no idea you were doing all this, you do need some help’ or ‘We do need to reconsider where Mom is living.’”

Four options for caring for aging parents

1. Staying at home, with help from a family member or professional

This is the number-one choice of aging parents. “They are more comfortable at home and they know where everything is,” says Henderson. “It’s difficult to move a parent. It can take up to six months to get settled into a new environment.” Hiring a personal support worker for occasional care starts at about $23 an hour, she notes.

2. Living in an adult child’s home

This can be a cost-effective choice, depending on the health of the parent. But in cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s, it can become too much to handle as the disease progresses.

3. Moving into a seniors’ residence

Living in a retirement or seniors’ residence is like having your own apartment in a protected environment. Meals, laundry and many extracurricular activities are provided. This rental accommodation can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 a month, depending on where you live and the type of residence you choose.

4. Moving into a long-term care centre

Long-term care centres (previously called nursing homes) can be a good solution for a parent who is very frail or incapacitated and needs expert supervision. But choosing the right one can be a difficult task. You can obtain information from online sites such as But it’s also advisable to book a tour of several centres and take some time to meet with the staff. As facilities can have lengthy waiting lists, it’s a good idea to begin researching available options even before your parent is ready to make the move.

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