Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My siblings are arguing over my elderly mother’s finances. My brother (60-plus) lives with Mom (80-plus) but does not pay rent. He pays for some groceries and makes her meals. When she is unable to move on her own due to surgery, he has stepped up and assisted her.
My sister controls Mom’s finances and meds, and gives Mom a weekly allowance. She insists that my brother pay rent, but he does not work, just gets Social Security. She tried to get Mom into an assisted living facility, but Mom did not want to go.
I think it is OK for him to live rent-free because otherwise we would need someone to ensure that Mom gets meals and check on her multiple times per day. My sis is trying to update the condo and make sure my brother moves out as soon as Mom passes.
My sis is very controlling — she just went into Mom’s bathroom and threw out a bunch of makeup and lotions without asking.
I live out of state, but visit one to three times per year. How do other families manage aging parents?
Carolyn says: Your brother deserves a medal, not this dismissive abuse from your sister.
Does she have any idea how draining it is to be a caregiver? And how hard it is to find a good one, and how expensive it is to pay one, and how nerve-racking it is at first to trust one? Presumably you would have said something if your brother were doing a bad job of caring for your mom. So, assuming his love and competence, you and your sister are getting care for your mother and copious amounts of peace of mind for next to nothing financially. Like, the change you find in the couch cushions. Has any of you looked at the price of elder care lately?
Any new financial arrangements should be in your brother’s favor, and the schedule for his post-Mom moveout a generous and compassionate one.
Again, this assumes your mom is well cared for. These situations can be complicated and messy, to put it mildly.
The way “other families” manage is of little relevance, because some other families absolutely and permanently shatter over this stuff as some members dump all the work on everyone else and others grab all the valuables. The stories would singe your eyebrows — and your sister’s behavior might not rank among the worst, but she seems to be using all her runway to get there. Wheeling Mom out of the way to polish up the condo for her estate sale reveals an ambition to reach for the worst.
The families that grow closer through their parents’ care do so by communicating freely, shouldering burdens ungrudgingly, finding other ways to chip in when they can’t be present, and by expressing gratitude for those doing the toughest work.
They also take the time to give themselves a freaking clue how this all works, and therefore would recognize your brother’s caregiving as a win-win-win scenario.
So please tell your brother how grateful you are, then show your sister some prices for assisted living and in-home care to prove what a blessing he is.
Consider getting a geriatric social worker involved: eldercare.acl.gov.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.