As the parents of baby boomers age, helping to care for them can become a source of financial and emotional stress among families, especially between boomer-age siblings. As sisters and brothers confront the various issues that come with aging family members, decades of shared history can create conflict. In most families, siblings have different financial situations, personalities and perspectives, which can make it a challenge to come to an agreement about caregiving.
Research from the Money Across Generations II study* shows that 36 percent of boomer-age respondents say that proximity to their parent(s) is the biggest factor in determining which sibling will be the primary source of family support. Only 13 percent agree it’s the sibling with the most financial means and a mere three percent believe that all siblings should share the responsibilities.
Regardless of how you choose, it’s important for families to agree on who will be the primary coordinator for your parents’ financial and emotional needs before your parent(s) start to experience declining health. Determining who will fill this roll, and communicating that to your parent(s) before it becomes an urgent matter can help ease tension among family members.
Here are some tips to help you and your siblings manage your parents’ finances and caregiving needs:
• Be aware and respect your siblings’ situations. One or more siblings may live in a different state or have family obligations or professions that keep them from being available to help care for aging parents physically or financially. It may be difficult to accept these discrepancies if your parent(s) require both kinds of support – especially if there are gaps – but it’s important to work hard to come to a compromise.
While some siblings may have more flexibility to spend time helping your parent(s), others may have less opportunity to leave work to help, but greater financial resources. Sit down and have a conversation with your siblings about what each person feels he or she can and cannot afford in respect to both time and money.
• Recognize differences in money habits and priorities. Each of your siblings may have different money habits – one may splurge while the other is more budget conscious in their purchasing decision processes. Consider money management styles when you’re choosing who will be best to help with your parent’s finances. Though your less organized sibling may be able to help in many ways, it can be more effective to designate someone who naturally enjoys and excels at handling money.
• Move on from past stereotypes. Although everyone excels at different things, relying on childhood roles (i.e. the dreamer, the bossy one or the perfect student) may only create more problems than needed. Just because one sibling may have taken on too much debt in the past, it doesn’t mean they have a problem with saving money now. Give your siblings the fair benefit of the doubt and ask them to do the same for you when deciding who will do what to help your parent(s).
• Communicate early and often. Communication among siblings is important during this time in your parent’s life. If you call and send emails or texts to one family member, your other sibling(s) may be out of the loop. Ensure you’re setting aside time to talk with your siblings in a structured setting about matters that may impact everyone.
Scheduling regular times to meet in person or talk on the phone will keep everyone informed when discussing your parents’ financial and health. If these kinds of conversations typically lead to tension or start an argument, consider drafting an agenda for your meetings to provide the opportunity for a structured discussion in which everyone gets a chance to provide input. If you’re the primary caregiver for your parent(s), these conversations provide opportunity to ask for help.
Your parent(s) need your support most during this time in their lives. Try your best to not let financial differences, or stresses set off old problems or rivalries between you and your siblings. Communicate openly and in a structured setting to ensure a supportive environment and success for all involved. Consider working with a financial advisor who can help you work through these scenarios and steer you in the right direction financially.
* The Money Across Generations IISM study was commissioned by Ameriprise Financial, Inc. and conducted by telephone by GfK in December 2011 among 1,006 affluent baby boomers (those with $100,000 or more in investable assets); 300 parents of baby boomers; and 300 children of baby boomers at least 18 years old. The margin of error is +/- three percentage points for the affluent boomers segment and +/- six percentage points for the parents and children of boomers segments.