Sibling fights can be minor and temporary, or they can grow into legal battles over care, guardianship, estates, and wills. Though advance planning and good communication can help avoid these scenarios, it is possible that you will disagree with your siblings regarding end-of-life planning and care for your parents.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Stop Sibling Fights Over Aging Parents
- Tips for Preventing Sibling Conflicts Over Your Aging Parents
Sibling fights over aging parents can be stressful, frustrating, and exhausting for all parties involved. Sometimes, it might seem as though things went off the rails somewhere along the way, and you don’t know how it happened. Past parental issues and unresolved conflicts can play a significant role in sibling fights and it is a challenge to sort those out.
If you are worried about these potential scenarios as you review your own parents’ end-of-life plans, here are some tips to keep things cordial and open.
How to Stop Sibling Fights Over Aging Parents
Stopping sibling fights can seem impossible when you are in the middle of a conflict. The more siblings involved, the more likely people are to take sides with one another, complicating communication and resolution. Usually, one sibling will take the lead in trying to stop sibling fights. Here are some straightforward steps to clear the air and hopefully reach a consensus.
1. Identify the issues
Try not to assume you know what the underlying issues are that create the conflict. Talking about specific concerns can clarify problems, and you may agree on more than you think. Some suggestions on identifying issues:
Is the conflict about the type and quality of care and who is providing it?
There is a joke among families that it seems as though it is always the sibling that doesn’t help with caring for aging parents that has the most complaints. Identify specific care concerns and work to solve those problems. Does your aging parent have complaints or are these coming from one sibling in particular?
Check in with your parents about how they view the situation and whether they are satisfied with the care they are receiving.
Is the conflict about senior living placement?
Senior living placement can be a big point of contention. Some siblings may be in favor of the move. Others have concerns about cost. What does the aging parent want and who is the primary caregiver in the family and what about their needs? Is caregiver burnout creating an unsustainable situation where senior living placement is the only option?
Is the conflict about money?
You might be surprised to find out that care concerns are often a cover for worries about inheritance and cash flow. Sadly, some siblings won’t be in favor of spending more money on care.
Is the conflict about control?
When an aging parent’s medical needs start to increase, and they need more help, control issues can emerge. Sometimes control is about past unresolved regrets, shame, or guilt, and asserting control is a way to cope. Other times, a sibling might feel left out of decisions due to sibling estrangement, or even estrangement from the aging parent.
2. Meet as a group to resolve conflict
Excluding certain siblings from family discussions about conflict is likely to complicate and worsen the situation. Even if you have to include siblings remotely through video platforms, it is better to have everyone present. And don’t forget to include your aging parent unless they have cognitive impairment or another health problem that would prevent their involvement. Focus as much as you can on maintaining transparency and honesty.
3. Have an agenda
Once you know what the issues are that are driving the conflict, have a plan to guide the discussion. An agenda will help to prevent derailment of the conversation into areas that aren’t productive. It is normal for people to want to vent their frustrations, but if the entire session devolves into everyone complaining, little will be accomplished. Try and stick to the agenda but allow everyone to participate.
4. Take notes or record the meetings
If you don’t take notes or record the meetings, everyone can end up with a different recollection of what was said and decided. You may be familiar with the telephone game where people form a circle and whisper a word or a phrase to one another. In the end, the last person states what the word or phrase is. And it is usually totally different than the original. You get the idea…
5. Set small goals
Reaching agreement during conflict can be challenging and frustrating. Accept that it may not be possible to resolve all disputes and the fighting it creates. The idea is to lower the flame and reduce the heat. It can help to set small goals related to the agenda. If everyone can even agree on one agenda item, that is progress. You can always return later to tackle other issues.
6. Caregiver burnout
A common problem that contributes to siblings fighting is that the primary sibling caregiver is burned out. It is natural for the other siblings to resist a change that might involve offering to help or consider additional outside paid support. Maintaining the status quo is much more appealing than making a change.
7. Consider a mediator
A mediator is a professional who attempts to help people involved in a conflict come to an agreement. A mediator is a viable option when siblings are at an impasse and can’t reach consensus.
Sometimes having an objective outsider can improve communication, help everyone see other points of view, and arrive at some decisions. Mediators are skilled at diffusing family conflict and reaching consensus.
8. Consider a geriatric care manager
Enlisting the help of a geriatric care manager can provide the family with a professional and objective view of care concerns. Geriatric care managers can do a one time consultation and prepare a report for the family that identifies problem areas and suggestions to address those problems.
Geriatric care managers can also provide a realistic idea of the cost of senior care communities or in-home help for your area.
Tips for Preventing Sibling Conflicts Over Your Aging Parents
In your efforts to prevent sibling conflict over your aging parents, prevention is often the best medicine. It is much easier to put effort into some pre-planning than to try and fix things once they have deteriorated. Start as early as you can. Sibling fighting can worsen if a parent develops dementia and hasn’t made important end-of-life decisions.
9. Do advanced planning
Advanced planning may be one of the most essential tools you can use to prevent future sibling conflict. Advanced planning isn’t guaranteed to avoid fighting, but it is the foundation of agreement and decision-making. Below are some of the important components of advance planning and how they can help.
Advance directives have different names depending on where you live, but they achieve much the same thing. A health care advance directive gives family members decision-making authority for someone when they are no longer able to speak for themselves. The other part of an advance directive is having the legal authority to obtain medical records and get medical information regarding your aging parent’s care.
A living will
If your parent is near the end of life and does not have a living will, this can be an incubator for intense family conflict. A living will lets your parent indicate what end-of-life interventions they want.
The more specific they can be, the better. That way, when end-of-life decisions need to be made, there is a road map to follow. There are numerous situations where siblings fight over whether to prolong life and under what conditions.
Settling a parent’s estate without a will can be a nightmare and a recipe for sibling conflict. Urge your parents to write a will as soon as possible and designate the estate’s executor.
Discuss living options
While your parents still have the ability to make decisions, talk with them as a family about what to do should they need more care. These discussions are not always easy, but it is far better to consider options before a crisis. Consider making visits to assisted living communities in advance of needing one. Talk about in-home care options and what the triggers are for starting that service.
Talk about finances
Have open and honest discussions about insurance coverage and finances. If all siblings have a grasp of the financial situation there is less room for disagreement later. Someone in the family needs to have financial power of attorney to manage finances if necessary.
10. Communicate frequently with all siblings
Sometimes sibling fighting starts when one or more siblings doesn’t feel included in healthcare decisions. Not every decision requires everyone to weigh in, but a safe way to avoid any fights is to have the primary caregiver share information with everyone.
Resentment can build when a sibling finds out some critical piece of medical information late or wasn’t ever informed or consulted from the beginning. Share crucial information via email or a group calendar system where everyone can see what is happening.
If you have any remote siblings looking to contribute, think of some ways they can help by investigating care or doing online searches for information.
11. Discuss end-of-life wishes
Even with a living will, it is necessary to discuss end-of-life wishes which can include your parents’ preferences regarding cremation, burial, funeral or graveside services, and any other decisions. It is a sad truth that sibling conflict can continue after someone is gone. Family estrangement and fighting can continue well after death and might even intensify.
How to Prevent Siblings Fighting Over Aging Parents
Aging parents can bring up all kinds of conflicting emotions for siblings. It isn’t easy to see parents decline or know what to do to help. Follow our suggestions to reduce conflict and reach agreement. Remember that you all probably have the same love and concern for your aging parents. You might just have different ways of expressing it.