Sibling Conflict Over Care

How to face the demands of your parents’ health care needs as a family.

Keep the peace with your siblings when dealing with the questions and expense.

Fifty years ago it was typical to feel honored to know that your aging parent had chosen to move in with you as opposed to one of your brothers or sisters. Today, sibling conflicts and resentment arise from a completely different nature: Who is doing more, or spending more, on behalf of the aging parent?

These conflicts usually stem from two basic issues:

  • Expenditure of time and resources: Who is bearing the unfair proportion of the burden of care?
  • Financial Considerations: How to proportionally spend money on care and preserve assets for inheritance.

When you consider the underlying factors of family dynamics, distance and the emotional considerations of watching a parent age, it is surprising that this common scenario doesn’t create more permanent rifts among families.

Expenditure of Time and Resources:

In today’s world, it is not uncommon for siblings to live in different states from each other and even from their parents. As a result, it seems that the sibling that lives closest to their parents usually finds themselves at the forefront of aiding in health care decisions and day-to-day assistance. They may not be the most qualified, the most compassionate, nor the first choice of the parents, they just happen to live the closest. In cases where a number of siblings live in the same town as their parents, there is usually one who assumes the primary role in default solely because the others choose not to step up and take charge.

When the balance of effort—driving to doctors appointments, grocery shopping, caregiving, cleaning and laundry—tips in the direction of just one sibling, these efforts can go underappreciated by the others who have no understanding of the depth of energy, time and patience required. Often, this is where the conflicts between siblings first appear as requests for help are ignored or the value of the role is diminished.

Financial Considerations:

It’s easy to see how family conflicts can arise over money. But those sentiments can become amplified when trying to find a balance between spending versus saving. How do you achieve consensus when one sibling wants to preserve a parent’s assets so they can be passed down through inheritance and another sibling wants to sell the house and insurance policies to help finance the best care possible?

Having a group discussion to decide how much of a parent’s money should be spent on their care is difficult, especially when you consider that each concerned party, including the aging parents, has different underlying financial needs and concerns. There are many available choices for care that might include a move to an assisted living community, home-based care or moving in with a family member who will become the primary caregiver. Each has different associated costs that might include money, time, resources, home remodeling, a revolving cast of companions and nurses and emotional fatigue.


There is no foolproof approach for resolving these conflicts and restoring peace to the family dynamic. One approach is to engage the services of a neutral senior living advisor or eldercare professional to help weigh the pros and cons of each option. Not only can they provide insights into each of the options, but they can help moderate a family discussion in a manner that brings everyone together to establish a common footing and mutual agreement on the best path for moving forward.

Another approach is to involve your parents in the conversation as soon as possible—even before they need care or assistance. By taking their desires into account and putting a plan in place for the eventual need, you can alleviate the bickering that takes place between siblings.

And remember, you cannot control anyone’s emotions and behaviors other than you own. So act as the role model and put aside personal differences and be as understanding and open as you can be to the viewpoints of others involved in the process. Leading by example can go a long way toward making everyone feel involved and having their viewpoints validated as valuable and well received.

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