When adult children decide it is time to “get help” for an aging parent, a threshold challenge can be: Will the parent accept assistance with their care? This issue may be less complicated when the caregiver is a family member, and more complicated when they are asked to put up with having “strangers” in their home. Notwithstanding cognitive decline, many elders have a strong sense of independence and resist the proposition that they should concede the sanctity of their home, and their right to make independent choices about their daily activities, to their children or anyone else.
A second threshold challenge is whether the children get along well enough to make decisions successfully. Typically, the parent has created legal documents, power of attorneys and trusts that place control over medical and financial decisions in the hands of one or more of their children. But just because a particular child is in charge, it doesn’t mean that child’s decisions won’t be challenged by siblings who may have different ideas on what their parents need and want. As parents age, longstanding sibling rivalries often play themselves out in the context of making decisions about a parent’s care needs.
Another “elephant in the room” is money. Home care is expensive. Depending on the relative wealth of the parent, and the sense of entitlement of the children, conflicts can arise among the children regarding how much money should be dissipated keeping parents at home, and whether their care may be less expensive if provided in an institutional care setting. Now, add to the mix the proposition that not all of the children may be involved in the care-giving, and the resulting issue over whether, and to what extent, such child or children should be compensated for those services, and you may begin to appreciate how dicey these decisions often become.
In all cases in which a family member is going to provide care for an aging parent, written agreements should be in place that clarify the understandings of the parties. Too often, litigation arises when one child assumes the responsibility of caring for a parent, and takes compensation for doing so, only to be later challenged by their siblings who claim to have understood that those services were being provided gratuitously, or that the caregiver child was being compensated by room and board. In these cases, what one child perceived as “doing the right thing” is often characterized by their siblings as stealing money from their impaired parent.