How to care for aging parents without ruining sibling relationships

When Robin Weeks visited her mother in Tennessee, she saw moldy food in the fridge and mountains of unpaid bills. Weeks decided in 2013 to move her mother close to her home in Virginia so she could better keep an eye on her mother’s well-being. She thought seeing her mother’s health deteriorate would be the most traumatic part of the situation. Instead, it was the growing tension with her brothers that proved to be the worst.

“I had a huge grudge,” says Weeks, who visited her mother in a nursing home every day for the last three years of her life. She says her two brothers only came to visit once a year.

Weeks isn’t the only one taking care of an aging parent while trying to keep the peace with the siblings. Old conflicts are reignited and new ones arise as brothers and sisters are suddenly confronted with the mortality of their parents and difficult decisions about how to care for them in their last years.

“The issue of talking to parents and caring for parents can often be overshadowed by issues related to talking to siblings,” says Cameron Huddleston, author of Mom and Dad, we need to talka book about difficult conversations with aging parents.

Experts say that with proper planning and lots of communication, you can avoid strain on your sibling relationships.

“I have a younger sister and we didn’t fight about my mother’s care or finances,” says Huddleston. “And it’s not like my sister and I always hit it off, but we managed to hit it off when it came to caring for my mom.”

types of conflicts

In times of crisis, old family dynamics surface. That said, if you have deep-seated resentments about a favored sister or a lazy brother, those issues are likely to surface again as you try to make decisions about mom and dad.

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Weeks said she and her brothers had been in a close relationship until their mother’s demise. It wasn’t until she felt she was being forced to assume all of her mother’s care that bitterness began to develop.

After her mother’s death in 2019, Weeks and her brothers had to distribute the money from her estate. That became controversial when Weeks asked for her share to be increased as she had lost income caring for her mother. She didn’t receive it.

Ultimately, Weeks and her brothers were no longer in a relationship after their mother’s death. Weeks went on to found My Pivotal Point, Caring for Caregivers, a company that provides coaching, education and support for caregivers and their employers.

“My philosophy is to be proactive; Don’t wait for the crisis,” Weeks said. “My brothers and I should have sat down and talked about it.”

In such stressful situations, even siblings in the best of relationships can feel tense.

“I’ve seen it firsthand in my family, how my mother and her brothers all approached their parents’ caregiving in very different ways,” says Michelle Seitzer, founder of, which offers one-to-one coaching for caregivers. “It was definitely a lot of excitement.”

Geography can play a role in disagreements when a sibling is nearby to care for a parent but is feeling the brunt of the responsibility. Additionally, the “daughter from California” dynamic can come into play when a sibling occasionally drops in from out of town to give their two cents but is otherwise out of touch, Huddleston says.

Money is a difficult subject for many families, even in the best of times, and giving the wallet to a sibling can inspire suspicion and resentment.

“The more you can communicate, the easier it is to reduce the risk of arguments,” says Huddleston. “It’s so important to be transparent.”

After all, the focus of many arguments is the parents’ desire for the best possible care. Sometimes siblings disagree about how that care is provided and who provides it.

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“There’s also a grief that people might not recognize in the demise of a parent,” Seitzer says. “There’s just a lot of emotional upheaval in those situations.”

Do you have an action plan

To combat any kind of sibling conflict, experts suggest a lot of communication within the family and a plan of action.

Of course, it works best when the parents have written down their own plans, for example with a living will or a foundation. In these cases, siblings simply have to carry out a parent’s will. But if those documents aren’t in place, you can still sit together now to plan a course of action before caring for your parents becomes an emergency situation.

“There is often no time [to make a plan] when mama gets discharged from the hospital in 24 hours.”

Seitzer says the further ahead you can plan, the better. And if you can have the conversation while your parents can weigh in, that’s best.

If your parents are healthy, call a meeting with your siblings now, Huddleston says. Try to agree on how you see responsibilities. Assign roles to each sibling’s strengths and volunteer in places you feel called to help.

“Start a conversation about what role you’re willing to play in your parents’ lives as they get older,” she says. “Don’t force siblings to participate, keep them informed.”

If your sister has bookkeeping experience, she may be most comfortable overseeing the money. If your brother lives closest to Mom, he might visit you more often. A distant sibling can still intervene by checking on home caregivers, speaking to attorneys about living wills, or arranging weekly grocery deliveries.

Huddleston now works for a company called Carefull, which helps siblings monitor their parents’ finances through an app. Tools like this can ensure that everyone is getting first-hand information.

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Once you’re in your roles, keep your siblings updated on any changes. That might mean holding regular meetings or conducting occasional check-ins. If you’re the sibling doing the brunt of the work, ask for help with specific tasks to keep grudges from building.

Seitzer says one way to anticipate problems is to consider what your parents’ life is like right now, 24/7. If there are gaps in care during a normal day, you may be able to avoid these problems by hiring a housekeeper or someone to drive a parent to doctor’s appointments.

Huddleston warns against adding a sibling to the care plans if they don’t want to be included or if there are issues with the law that could jeopardize your parent’s safety.

“Elderly exploitation is more likely to be committed by people they know: family members, neighbors, friends, caregivers,” she says. “You don’t want to provide that sibling with information that Mom can take advantage of.”

Comes well together for mom and dad

Yelena Sokolsky, CEO of Galaxy Homecare, which provides home care services, says the better siblings get along, the better care your parents will be.

“The health of the nurse is more important than the health of the patient, because if the nurse is not well, she cannot take care of the patient,” says Sokolsky.

If you are able to hire professional caregivers, working together as a family unit is critical to ensuring care goes according to plan. And it’s best to designate a surrogate to avoid having multiple siblings speaking to health workers at once.

Additionally, if you can afford professional care, whether at home or in an institution, you can often relieve some of the burden of caring for your parents, which is often the source of sibling conflict.

“We want them to be sons and daughters and not necessarily come to clean or do laundry or grocery shopping,” says Sokolsky. “If they can come in and really enjoy themselves and spend time because let’s face it, it all goes so fast.”

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