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The Life Transition Blog

Financial Fights Among Siblings While Caring For Aging Parents


Very often, older adults empower one of their adult children with the responsibility of handling finances when they can no longer do so. In other cases, one of the children will step forward to take over, sometimes without consulting with his or her siblings. What happens if the other siblings don’t agree with how Mom or Dad’s finances are being handled?

The answer to this question is, as you probably anticipated, “it depends”. It depends on who is legally in charge. It depends on whether the siblings were on the same page before Dad couldn’t handle the finances any longer. It depends on whether there is underlying trust or distrust among the family members. And, it depends upon whether Mom made a plan before she became incapacitated and shared that plan with the kids.

If your parent has made one of his or her children the Power of Attorney (POA) then that person has the responsibility to handle the actions and decisions that are covered by the document. While the POA is not required to consult with her siblings, it might be a good idea to do so, especially if there may be disagreement. While the ultimate decision belongs to the POA, obtaining the input of siblings and discussing the options will help the others feel involved with the decision even if they don’t ultimately agree with it. On the other hand, if one of you stepped in and took over “helping” your parent with his finances without the benefit of having been designated the POA, you’re on shaky ground. The helper doesn’t have the “right” to make the decisions, and it isn’t unusual for the others to feel angry or frustrated.

As with so many things, communication is really the core solution. If you have been named POA by your parent, it’s a good idea to have periodic family meetings in person or by phone or video chat to discuss important decisions or changes. Likewise, sending a budget and periodic accounting of your parent’s finances to your siblings will help them feel like they know what is going on. Yet as POA, there will be times when you simply need to make a decision and act on it, and it is important that your family doesn’t miss out on deadlines or opportunities because of “analysis paralysis”.

If you aren’t the POA but have stepped in to the role of “chief financial officer” for your Mom, then it is even more critical that you communicate with your siblings since you don’t have any legal authority to take action. The last thing any family needs is to be fighting with each other in court. The only winners in this case are the lawyers who represent all of you!

Let’s look at things from the perspective of the sibling who isn’t in charge. Why is she disagreeing with your management of your parents’ affairs? Perhaps it is because she has a different point of view. Or maybe he’s hurt or frustrated that you haven’t asked for his opinion. Could it be as simple as feeling left out or in the dark? Often, the unknown makes us assume that something is being hidden from us. Whatever the motivation, finding a way to act as a team with your siblings will always make things less stressful for all of you.

Planning ahead for the time when you or your parent can no longer handle financial affairs is a multi-step process, one that most people would rather avoid. Yet taking this important step will often mean the difference between family harmony and fireworks.
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