Planning Ahead for Family Conflict
Family dynamics vary from one family to the next. While the financial caregiving decisions in one family my go off without a hitch, the family next door could be a full blown legal battle. The best defense against sibling rivalry or other family issues is to plan ahead.
While mom and / or dad are still in a good state of mind, the family should all sit down together and discuss financial and caregiving matters. Discussions ahead of a crisis make for an honest and less emotional meeting. Involve all siblings and your parents in a family meeting. At this point the parent should have a large voice in what he or she would like to see happen. And here are some questions and decisions to keep in mind for this conversation:
- How confident are your parents in making financial, medical, and caregiving decisions? Know what their comfort levels are. Do they have any worries?
- Who should be Power of Attorney (POA)? This is the most important decision to be made.
- Other decisions such as living arrangements and life prolonging preferences should be discussed.
Working together will be worthwhile in the long run. Remember to check childhood, past grievances with other family members, and/or preconceived notions at the door. The focus is on the parent and not who was the baby of the family, the black sheep or the favorite. Be respectful of your parents’ and siblings’ ideas, thoughts, and fears. Bringing everyone in early will help to eliminate the snide remarks later on. Sibling issues can be particularly stressful.
Tools to Help Avoid and Resolve Fights over Money
If the situations warrants, a lawyer or financial advisor could also be consulted. Although a power of attorney is under no obligation to consult the other siblings, it is often in everyone’s best interest to do so. It is especially in the best interest of the self appointed “chief financial officer” to consult siblings and other key family members. The unknown is what often rocks the boat. Good communication not only keeps everyone informed but also gives light to things from a different perspective.
One thing that often prevents future problems is for the person spending money to keep very good records of where the money goes. When questions come up as to “where is all of mom’s money going,” there will be easy and open records to show how much home health, medicines, and those special pads for her knees at bedtime actually cost. These kinds of records protect the person from unfair accusations or suspicion.
This would be a good time to also collect medical information and history. What medications are your parents taking, who the doctors are, and the dates of recent medical tests are things caregivers should be informed about. Here are some other record keeping tools you can download and print out:
Handling Tough Family Conversations
There are many painstaking family problems we may face when a aging parent needs help or may no longer be able to function independently, so it is vital to be supportive and share the burdens as best you can. Hold periodic family meetings to discuss issues, update others on the loved one’s condition and what the financial status is. Stay focused on the issues and resolving them. If managed well, the experience can bring family members closer as you help your elderly loved one through the final stages of life.
Resolving Family Conflict
What if you are already in the middle of an all out fight with extended family and siblings? Get help. For starters, obtaining legal help does not mean you are planning to take any actions against other family members, but it can help you to have a trusted ally to understand your challenges and prepare to protect yourself if needed. Also, this is a good time to ask for support from an outside friend who is not involved or a counselor just to have someone to talk with. Sometimes, we have blind spots in family matters because we have our own issues and old grievances from the past that are so "normal" to us, we do not realize that they are really not normal reactions. For example, if you always have distrusted a particular sister because of something that happened in high school, you may be perceiving her current position in a matter through that lense. If you view her negatively and assume the worst intentions, that can heighten the conflict and may not be realistic. An outside friend or counselor can often help us see that there are other possible ways to view and react to a situation.
Ultimately, the goal is to do whatever you can to preserve civility and resolution of conflict in the family because long-term, this will have ripple effects potentially for generations. Where you can concede, do so. Where you cannot, try to be as respectful, clear, honest, and patient as you can be. If your loved one is still alive, it is vital to do what you can to not add to his or her stress and to consider that person's view as much as possible.
Preparing for tough conversations is always helpful and remaining calm and patient is the best way to guard against unnecessarily inflamming a situation.