A common problem with family caregiving is that often the burden is not shared equally among family members. One person does all or most of the work, while the others seem to disappear or stick around to complain but won’t do anything to help. One article I read calls them “slacker siblings.” This situation is hurtful to both the one needing care as well as the caregiver. They must deal with not only the stress and grief over the health situation, but the pain and anger of being abandoned by their supposed loving relatives.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate reasons why one child is the primary caregiver. For example, the other siblings may live far away or have financial or health issues that limit what they can do. However, there are many ways to contribute to caregiving even when you are at a distance and have fewer resources than the primary caregiver. Often, caregiving disputes highlight problems that were already part of the family dynamic but are now made obvious and unavoidable. As a result, individual and family counseling can make a difference to address the underlying issues. Working with a therapist can help facilitate communication between the parties and provide tactics to assist in finding a resolution.

Sometimes, the problem of caregiving becomes an argument over other issues. Family members may disagree about the caregiver’s control over healthcare and financial matters. There may be complaints that the caregiver has undue influence over the parent and fights over whether to have a guardian appointed over the parent. Siblings may object to compensating the caretaker or hiring additional help. These disputes can even end up in court. Elder mediation with an attorney offers substantial benefits in keeping such disputes out of court or resolving them more quickly if there is a lawsuit.

Elder mediation is a voluntary process whereby a skilled and impartial professional facilitates discussion and settlement among the parties. The mediator doesn’t impose a decision, but does help the family listen to each other, constructively deal with negative emotions and stay focused on their goals. Through this process, the objective is for the parties to find agreement and devise their own solution. This makes it more likely that the parties will be able to maintain their family relationship and continue to work together as new issues come up.

While counseling and mediation can help resolve disputes that occur, the best course of action is to be proactive. As we age, it is important to develop a long-term care plan. Consider different scenarios and who could help with your care if you needed it. Think also about how caregiving will affect your family financially and emotionally. What kind of care can you afford? What do you expect from your family in terms of caregiving? How will the caregiver be compensated? Then discuss it with your family. You should not assume anyone or everyone can step in. You must also consult an attorney to execute the appropriate legal documents to ensure your wishes are followed.

Unfortunately, many families are damaged or destroyed over caregiving disputes. Avoid them with proper planning or get professional assistance to help facilitate agreement.

If you need assistance, contact me for a consultation. I am an experienced elder law attorney who helps clients implement their wishes through drafting appropriate documents as well as providing guidance on mediation.