Advice on Protecting Against Siblings Taking Advantage of Elderly Parents
Are you concerned about protecting your elderly parents from siblings?
Sadly, siblings taking advantage of elderly parents is a more common situation than you might think. Whether it’s emotional, physical, or financial abuse, knowing how to protect elderly parents from siblings is a challenging subject.
And when money is involved, it almost always creates mixed motives and stirs up suspicions, even in the best of families. The decisions involved in protecting elderly parents’ money can cause disagreements among siblings and lead to strained relationships.
So, how do you protect your parents from other family members and navigate sibling relationships?
In this article, we’ll be exploring the complicated issues of:
- How to prevent family disputes with elderly parents
- How to deal with “greedy siblings”
- How can I protect my elderly parents’ money
- How to stop siblings from spending your parents’ money
- How to restore relationships strained by disputes about family finances
Read on to learn about how to restore your family’s peace while also protecting your parent’s money, health, and wellness.
Protecting Elderly Parents from Siblings
First of all, the desire to protect elderly parents from potential abuse (e.g., physical, emotional, financial, etc.) is a common occurrence.
Further, the abuse of elderly parents can come from multiple sides:
- Adult children who are not the parents’ primary caregivers may be concerned that the sibling who is the primary caregiver is misusing (or even abusing) their access to their parents’ money.
- The sibling who is the primary caregiver may be concerned that other, “less helpful”, siblings are trying to manipulate the aging parents, attempting to interfere without knowledge of what’s actually going on, or even without caring about what’s best for the parents.
Misuse and abuse can happen from either side of the equation. Concern for parents’ welfare is valid, whether you’re the primary caregiver or not.
However, it’s easier and less destructive to prevent a messy, family crisis than to resolve one. For this reason, let’s look at what can be done to proactively prevent or (if necessary) resolve issues of siblings taking advantage of elderly parents.
Preventing Family Disputes with Elderly Parents
The best way to prevent siblings from spending parents’ money is to have thorough discussions about aging parents’ care in advance and agree to a plan.
Consider this very common progression of events:
- One sibling is more suited/available/willing to take on a majority of the burden and costs of caring for the elderly parents.
- The sibling providing a majority of the care becomes burned out and resentful toward the “unhelpful” siblings.
- The primary caregiver feels entitled to use their access to the parent’s money to compensate themselves for the sacrifices they’re making, without including other siblings in that decision.
- This all results in accusations of misuse of funds, greed, and elder abuse.
Ultimately, the above scenario can be prevented by thorough discussion and plan-making ahead of time.
Here are two practical steps you can take toward an end-of-life plan for aging parents.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s best to take preparation for the end of life seriously.
A few practical steps you can take to prepare for your parents’ old age include:
- Consulting an elder law attorney
- Doing research on end-of-life topics
- Mapping out kinds of care that may be needed, including what it may cost
- Taking a class on caregiving
This kind of preparation will equip you to be able to form a knowledgeable and workable plan.
The next step to making a plan is to have some honest conversations as a family.
Many families shy away from talking about aging, health, and finances. But these are the topics that must be explored in order to avoid future mismatched expectations, frustrations, and disputes.
Here are some hard questions that you can discuss as a family:
- What are your parents’ preferences and desires regarding their care and their estate?
- Among the adult children, what would be an equitable sharing of caregiving responsibility/burden?
- What if one sibling won’t help with the elderly parents’ care? Is there another way they can contribute/stay involved?
- Who gets to make decisions regarding the parents’ money and health care?
- If certain adult children are sacrificing financially to take care of their parents, are they entitled to some form of compensation/reimbursement?
It’s much better to get these topics out in the open before they become an urgent concern. Or worse, once the money’s gone and relationships are strained.
So far, we’ve addressed basic questions siblings with aging parents must consider.
Things have the potential to get really messy, however, if one or more siblings are spending parents’ money without proper consent. So, what do you do when a sibling is taking advantage of elderly parents?
How to Deal with “Greedy Siblings”
Things get more complicated when one adult child is dependent on their aging parents in some way or selfishly takes advantage of parents’ money.
Some common scenarios of a “greedy sibling” include an adult child:
- Frequently looking to their parents for financial assistance, gifts, or “loans” in order to maintain their lifestyle.
- Living with their aging parents and dependent on them for housing.
- Having a cognitive or physical disability, and their parents are the primary caregiver.
In each of these scenarios, the aging parents’ resources are being used disproportionately to support one of their adult children, and that child may feel a strong need for the parents’ continued financial assistance.
As uncomfortable as it might be to talk about, this is a family issue that could easily become a crisis if unaddressed. Some questions that must be answered as a family include:
- What’s the plan for the aging parents’ care after their financial resources are exhausted?
- How do we handle the dependent sibling’s care once the parents’ are no longer able to help them?
- Would it be better for the adult child to become independent in advance?
- Is it acceptable for the aging parents to choose to give away (to the dependent sibling) the money that would’ve become an inheritance left to their other adult children?
When having these difficult conversations, remember that a win-win solution is one in which the needs of each family member (aging parents, supportive adult children, dependent adult children) are all accounted for. Keep this goal in mind when thinking through practical solutions.
End of life, aging, health, and finances are all potentially awkward conversation topics, but unless these conversations happen ahead of time, you may end up with broken relationships and messy legal battles.
How Can I Protect My Parents’ Money
When it comes down to it, only so much can be prevented through family discussion. It’s also important to take practical steps towards protecting elderly parents’ money.
Here are our top five tips for protecting your parents’ money if you suspect one of your siblings is spending your parents’ money unnecessarily.
1. Get Legal Documents in Order
Getting all of your parents’ legal documents in order may seem intimidating, but it’s a crucial first step in preventing any form of abuse.
Some specific actions you can take in regards to getting legal matters in order include:
- Talking to an elder law attorney, probate, and/or fiduciary
- Establishing a medical power of attorney
- Designating a financial power of attorney
- Creating a living will, a will, or trust
An important way of protecting elderly parents’ money is to include legal provisions to make it difficult for a single, outside person to later make changes to these legal documents.
For example, state in the original document that in order to make changes, someone must contact the attorney who originally drafted the document. Additionally, state that there must be the agreement of multiple witnesses who aren’t named in the will (or the trust) in order for the documents to be changed.
2. Maintain Strict Transparency
For any sibling who’s making decisions on their parents’ behalf, maintaining strict transparency is a must. This will calm suspicions and protect against accusations.
In general, transparency refers to hiding nothing—making all information openly available. In this context, maintaining transparency means having all the details regarding finances, health care, and legal decisions recorded and available to all parties who have an interest. This allows for accountability to the law.
In order to maintain transparency, put everything in writing. Taking over elderly parents’ finances legally by becoming the power of attorney is better than simply adding names to bank accounts. There should be a paper trail for all financial transactions. Avoid cash transactions and gifts.
For more guidance on how to maintain transparency, consult an attorney or fiduciary. All of this avoids contentions and prevents legal battles.
3. Talk to a Representative About Medicaid
Medicaid is a government assistance program that can cover significant amounts of elder care, for those who qualify. However, the application process is complicated, and it’s possible to fail to qualify because you fill out the forms incorrectly.
The way this ties into protecting your parents’ money is, Medicaid has a 5 year “look back” period. This means that gifts, “loans”, payment to family members for services, and/or transference of assets within the past five years can all disqualify a senior.
If a gift to a family member does disqualify the parents from Medicaid, it will mean large expenses back on the family’s plate, which the aging parents might have otherwise been able to cover themselves. It’s better to avoid large financial gifts entirely when getting close to a time in life when your parents may need Medicaid.
If you think Medicaid might be an option for your parents – now or in the future – it is critical that you receive guidance from a professional representative.
4. Repair Relationships
Money is a contentious subject and even well-meant decisions can lead to offense.
Though protecting elderly parents from siblings is important, harmony and peace within the family are highly valuable. Whichever sibling serves as power of attorney should try to make it clear to the rest of the family that they’re not taking on all this work for themselves, but for the sake of the parents.
Maintain a high value for forgiveness and reconciliation within the family as you navigate difficult situations as a family. Even though your siblings may be in the wrong at times, consider extending them extra grace, and asking for their patience as well. Maintaining peace within the family and avoiding messy lawsuits may be worth some compromises along the way.
As you repair relationships and work toward peace, you may find that it can lead to more open discussions and less financial abuse in the future.
5. Seek Outside Assistance
Though our hope is that it would never come to this, there may be times when you have done all you can and your sibling still seems to be taking advantage of your elderly parents.
You may ultimately need an elder law attorney’s help in taking over your parents’ finances legally and stopping your siblings from spending your parent’s money. In extreme cases, if you suspect emotional or physical abuse, it may even be necessary to report your family member to adult protective services.
Expert Care When Siblings Won’t Help With Elderly Parents
When it comes to protecting elderly parents from siblings, there’s no easy answer. Sometimes you can talk as a family and work through family disputes with elderly parents. Other times, it may require more serious action, like getting power of and taking over elderly parents’ finances legally.
In this article, we provided some insight into:
- Preventing disputes within families
- How to deal with greedy siblings
- Protecting elderly parents’ money
But if you’re the primary caregiver to elderly parents and need help providing their hands-on care, we’re here for you.
Commonwise Home Care has been serving seniors and their families in Virginia and South Carolina for almost a decade. We dedicate ourselves to providing compassionate care to aging adults, allowing seniors to age in place comfortably at home. In addition, we train our Caregivers to spot elder abuse and our Care Managers know how to take action.
If you’re interested in finding top-quality in-home care for your loved one and relieving some of the burden off yourself or a sibling, speak to a Commonwise Care Advisor about how we might be the senior care solution for your family.