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Can childhood conflicts create drama when planning for parents?

It's a sad reality that many families disagree about the manner in which elderly parents' affairs are decided once the parents are no longer able to make decisions for themselves. What frequently is occurs is that childhood dramas and sibling rivalries affect the decision-making process — often to the detriment of the parents.

Ideally, all parents would draw up their own estate plans that address the care they plan to seek once physical or mental disabilities render them in need of hands-on assistance. This is not the case in many families, however.

Two family dynamics that can result in sibling disputes are inheritance and injustice. With the former, when the parents' intentions are unclear or not specified at all, siblings may clash if one suspects that another is dissipating or diverting the potential inheritance they may receive.

The latter often emerges if one sibling takes on the majority of the burden of care for their parents. Typically, the adult child in the closest proximity to their parents may be expected to pick up any slack regarding their parents' needs. If that child reaches out to distant siblings for relief, e.g., physical or financial, they may be rebuffed. That only adds to the resentment the overburdened sibling feels. It may later be revealed that the caregiver child feels they are entitled to a larger piece of the inheritance pie.

What can you do when you harbor such feelings toward your siblings over your parents' care? Try these tips:

  • Communicate: Openly discuss the options your family has to provide care for your parents. Also, be forthright about what you can reasonably commit to doing so that there are no unmet expectations.
  • Involve professionals: From elder law attorneys to gerontologists, it's wise to turn to the professionals when your own toolbox comes up empty. They have seen it all before and can offer workable solutions.
  • Don't rehash the past: Focus solely on making your parents' safe and comfortable without fighting old battles from childhood.

While these times can be fraught with acrimony, they don't have to be. When all else fails, take a deep breath or a long walk. Sometimes agreeing to disagree may be the best possible outcome.

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