In a perfect family, everyone gets along and can turn to each other when they need help. However, family relationships are often complicated. Sometimes, parents and adult children are not close because of a current or old grievance or maybe their personalities have never meshed. Whatever the reason, as parents age, both sides may start to worry about what happens if the parent has a health crisis. Asking for or providing caregiving assistance carries extra stress if the parties are ambivalent about their feelings towards each other.

Many parents have a hard time asking for help even if they have a good relationship with their children. They don’t want to impose or be a burden. If they have a bad relationship, they may feel guilty, uncomfortable or resentful of having to seek assistance.

Sometimes, parents assume their children will step in without asking them what they can handle. This is an issue in many families even if they are close as children may not necessarily be in the best position to provide care. If the relationship is strained, having children take on caregiving responsibilities without addressing existing conflicts may make the situation worse.

What should families do in these situations?

  • Try to heal the rift. An article on has strategies that may help families address difficult parent-child relationships. Ideally, these should be undertaken long before there is a caregiving issue. If necessary, get professional help from a therapist.
  • Plan for a health crisis. Long before care is needed, parents should think about who can care for them if they need assistance; what resources do they have to pay for care by a family member, aide or facility; and who should make decisions for them if they can’t. They should then talk with their children and/or other parties they want to designate to explain their wishes. An attorney should also be consulted to provide legal advice about the options available and execute appropriate legal documents such as a healthcare proxy, durable power of attorney and will. This ensures that the parents’ plans are implemented.
  • Seek elder mediation. Dealing with major life changes can lead to conflicts in any family. Parents and children may disagree about the parents’ decisions. If parents did not plan in advance, siblings may be left to take control and have their own arguments. Elder mediation is a voluntary process whereby a skilled and impartial professional facilitates discussion and settlement among the parties. The parties should seek out an experienced elder law attorney with specific training in mediation to either act as the mediator or be an advisor in connection with an ongoing mediation with another mediator.

Don’t wait to address these issues with your family. If you need assistance with estate and long-term care planning or elder mediation, contact me for a consultation.