When you’re helping aging parents plan their future, many complicated factors come into play. At Vineyard, we encounter family scenarios and backgrounds that require in-depth communication and planning to ensure the older adult receives the best long-term care. 

The bottom line is that family dynamics make planning difficult. Children often delay discussing long-term plans because they can’t envision their parents needing full-time, professional help. Alternatively, happy families might assume when the time comes, it will be an easy conversation to decide what’s best for mom or dad, and everyone will agree. Unfortunately, navigating the complexities of long-term care combined with differing opinions, interests, and beliefs can make this process difficult and something that families often aren’t prepared for. 

While we see unique and nuanced circumstances every day (each family is different), we put together a few common examples of challenging family dynamics to help you visualize and understand the importance of communication and planning. We’ve outlined the three most common scenarios for modern families, along with a few examples of issues, as well as solutions to avoiding similar problems. 

Sibling Dynamics 

When helping aging parents, sibling relationships can present tension, confusion, and resentment. Even with just two children in a family, the brother/sister might not see eye-to-eye. Long-term care planning becomes more complex the more siblings you factor into the picture, not to mention their spouses.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a close family that could never imagine arguing with your siblings; there are many potential complex scenarios when it comes to planning for your senior parents. To prepare, consider some of the following common conflicts along with solutions on how to avoid them. 

Common Sibling Conflicts:

  • Balancing who does what: Caregiving starts with a few small errands, i.e., getting groceries or trips to the doctor, which falls on the sibling closest by. Then, progressively, more is required, and that sibling is now a part- or full-time caregiver and resentful that the others aren’t helping. However, a pattern formed that’s difficult to change, causing a rift in the family. 
  • Unfair expectations: Many normative gender roles or assumptions about personal situations can lead to miscommunications. For example, daughters should have a more active role in caregiving because it’s traditionally a female duty. Alternatively, siblings expect the person with no children or a less-demanding job to help more because they have “less to do.” 
  • Differing ideas about long-term care: One sibling settles into the role of primary caregiver and then has different notions on what long-term care for their parents look like. The caregiver is too emotional to consider their parents not living in their family home or moving into a senior community. While the secondary caregiver or other siblings not involved believe its time to transition. 
  • Financial disputes: A sibling that doesn’t shoulder as much responsibility doesn’t agree with the financial cost for a senior living community. (Especially when it’s seen as a subtraction from potential inheritance). However, the primary caregivers know they can’t continue as is, and as their parent ages, they will need full-time professional help. 

There are truly endless sibling scenarios that can lead to conflict when helping aging parents plan for long-term care. Financial issues can especially lead to stressful situations, as most things with money and family do. 

Addressing Potential Sibling Issues 

Initially, hold a family meeting to discuss your parent’s health, wellbeing, and care plan. Include your parent so they can explain their wishes. 

Give everyone time to prepare and bring their opinions to the table. Encourage people to bring notes and write things down as you talk. Depending on your family, you might want to have another meeting without your parent, so the siblings can feel free to voice their thoughts openly without hurting mom or dad’s feelings. 

Even after your initial meeting, you should continue to meet regularly to assess the plan and make any needed changes. Your parent’s health will evolve, and your care plan should as well. 

For further information on sharing caregiving duties with your siblings (and why it might be more difficult than you think), refer the Family Caregiver Alliance’s in-depth resource

If you’re worried about conflict, consider consulting a neutral, unbiased arbitrator to facilitate the meeting. When considering long-term care, the professionals at a senior living community can help lead these discussions and wade through the heavy, uneasy decisions that need to be made.

Late-In-Life Second Marriages 

The rate of remarriage for most demographics has decreased. However, in the 55+ age bracket, according to Pew Research, remarriage has become more prevalent in recent years. Whether after divorce or the death of the spouse, most children want their parents to be happy, which remarriage can bring. Despite that, it can also cause issues within the family regarding long-term care planning. We give a few examples below.  

Common Issues With Parent’s Remarriage:

  • Not seeing eye-to-eye on care timeline: A remarried parent develops health issues that should require professional, full-time help. The children want their parent to move into an assisted living community, but their new spouse disagrees. The new spouse wants more time to live with their partner at home and doesn’t want to accompany them to a senior community. 
  • Disagreement on the cost of long-term care: A parent is recently remarried, and their spouse requires long-term care. The children feel like it’s not the responsibility of their parent to completely fund the cost for their new spouse. Janet Colliton, Esq., a Certified Elder Law Attorney, further explains this potentially complex scenario in a recent article

How to Preempt Problems with Second Marriages

When starting a new relationship, no one wants to discuss prenuptial agreements or what they’ll do if they develop dementia. Moreover, children might not want to discourage their parent’s excitement about a new relationship to suggest financial planning and long-term care strategizing. However, especially for senior partnerships and marriages, straightforward and honest discussions need to happen for the sake of everyone involved.

Talk to a financial advisor or legal expert about estate and financial planning. The best time to do this would be before the marriage, if possible. As a child of a prior marriage, meet with your parent, and explain why they need to develop long-term care plans. 

If mom or dad is already in their second marriage, start this discussion when you begin long-term care planning.

At Vineyard, we work with local financial and legal partners (experienced in elder law) that can assist our residents and their families in developing the proper strategies. 

Blended Families 

Second marriages are only further complicated when both partners have children. Adult children must now consider not only their parent’s new spouse but also the step-siblings’ opinion when planning long-term care. What’s more, familiarity and trust issues can come into play because you haven’t known or grown up with these people like you have your own siblings. The following potential issues can occur with blended families. 

Common Blended Family Problems 

  • Opposing step-sisters: Two daughters have cared for their parents for years. Those parents meet and decide to get married. A few years down the line, one of the parents requires professional help, yet the daughters don’t agree if just the one parent who needs assistance should move into a senior community or both. Both have ideas of what’s best for their respective parent and have trouble understanding what’s best for them as a couple. 
  • Elusive family consensus: An older parent in a blended family has a medical emergency. Decisions must be made about rehabilitation and long-term care. The children, step-children, and step-parent disagree on how much input they should have in the decision-making process. I.E., ‘Why should my mom give up her house, pay for and live in assisted living because your dad is sick?’ Even if the family agrees on the need for assisted living, they have to agree on the community and location itself. Should it be closer to mom’s children and dad’s?    

How to Cohesively Plan With Your Blended Family 

Financial planner Lili Vasileff explains this concept well to CNBC: “When I talk with older couples who are remarrying, I ask them, ‘if you’re both on a boat and it goes down, can you trust the two sides of the families to get together and do what you wanted?’” Vasileff continues that the older you are when you remarry, the more assets you likely have (retirement, life insurance, real estate, etc.), which requires both estate planning and open communication. 

Meet with your parent, their new partner, and their children so everyone can get on the same page about long-term care plans. Encourage honest, open dialogue with everyone so that there will be no surprises down the road. Again, seek expert help for the financial and legal aspects of long-term care.  

Helping Aging Parents and Navigating Family Dynamics 

In the senior living industry, it’s a common issue that families don’t discuss long-term care until mom or dad has an emergency, and it’s a sudden reality.

Conversation, research, and preparation is the best way to help your parents plan for long-term care. You need to communicate before a crisis happens, and emotions run high. No matter your family dynamics, if you have an open dialogue, and hear everyone out, you can get on the same page as far as your parent’s wishes and what that means for family members involved. Doing this before you actually need long-term care options will allow everyone to think clearly and speak truthfully. 

Bring experts into the conversation to help you develop the proper paperwork and financial/legal strategies for your parents. While you might want to have family meetings first, then advise professionals, if you have conflicting dynamics from the start, consult a third-party for assistance.

At Vineyard, we help our residents and their families understand the importance of long-term care planning. Our team helps you navigate through these heavy situations and difficult decisions. Please contact your nearest Vineyard community today to start the conversation!