Estate Planning

Which Sibling Should Take Care of Elderly Parents?

Ty McDuffey


Taking care of elderly parents can be a tough responsibility, especially when deciding which sibling should be mostly responsible for their supervision. It's a situation that can often lead to disputes and conflicts among even the closest siblings. 

Some people think the oldest sibling should be responsible for caring for aging parents. 

Others argue that this responsibility should be shared among siblings. 

The truth is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which sibling should take care of elderly parents. The best approach for you will depend on your family's unique circumstances.

In this article, we will take a look at the various perspectives on this topic, the challenges that fizzle up when siblings have differing opinions on caring for aging parents, and provide tips for improving your situation. 

By the end of this article, you'll better understand how to work with your family to make the best caretaking decisions for your aging parents.

Key Takeaways: 

  • The best approach depends on your family's circumstances, however, an approach that involves multiple siblings is often most effective.

  • The notion that the oldest sibling is responsible for caring for aging parents can create resentment from other siblings, logistical difficulties, health issues, & unequal distribution of responsibilities.

  • Distributing caregiving responsibilities among siblings can provide opportunities for collaboration and support and improve communication and relationships within the entire family unit. 

The Expectation that Falls on the Oldest Sibling

Some families follow the tradition that the oldest sibling should take on the primary caregiving role for aging parents. 

This expectation is sometimes rooted in cultural or religious beliefs and is seen as a sign of respect for the eldest. However, it can be a challenging expectation to meet.

The eldest sibling may have their own family or work responsibilities, making it difficult for them to take on the additional burden of caregiving for elderly parents.

The eldest sibling may live further away from their aging parents than other siblings, making it logistically more complicated for them to be present for caregiving tasks than other siblings.

The eldest sibling may even have health issues of their own that make caregiving difficult. 

Chronic pain, mobility issues, or disability can limit their ability to provide hands-on care for their aging parents. 

Anxiety, depression, or caregiver burnout can also hinder the eldest sibling's ability to provide care for their parents. 

If the eldest sibling is struggling to take care of their own mental health, they probably won’t have the energy or emotional resilience to handle the stress and demands of caregiving.

In some families, the eldest sibling may not have the necessary skills or background to provide the best care for their aging parents. 

The eldest sibling might have no experience with caregiving, especially if they have been intensely focused on their schooling or profession, while other siblings might be better suited thanks to a career path in nursing or social work. 

The eldest sibling might not have the financial means to provide the level of care that their aging parents need, especially if professional healthcare services or home modifications become necessary. A well-off younger sibling may be better positioned to handle elder care.  

The expectation that the eldest sibling should be the primary caregiver can also lead to resentment from other siblings, who may feel like they aren’t doing enough to support their parents. 

When the oldest sibling is in charge of the caregiving, it can create an unequal distribution of responsibilities within the family, with the eldest sibling taking on the bulk of the burden. 

This can cause feelings of unfairness among other siblings who may feel that their contributions to the family are going unrecognized. 

It can also cause a sense of guilt or obligation among the other siblings, who may feel they should be doing more to help, even if they can’t take on the primary caregiving role.

These reasons and more can lead to feelings of inadequacy or frustration. 

While the tradition of the eldest sibling taking on the primary caregiving role may be rooted in respect, you need to recognize that your family's circumstances are unique, and caregiving responsibilities for your elderly parents should be distributed in a way that works best for everyone involved.

Consider all arrangements and explore options for care that meet your parents' needs while also considering the limitations and abilities of each family member.

The Shared Responsibility Model 

Other families prefer to distribute caregiving responsibilities among all siblings. This approach can reduce the burden on any one sibling and provide opportunities for siblings to work together to support their parents. 

When families decide to share the responsibility of caring for elderly parents, they are essentially acknowledging that each family member has their own unique strengths, limitations, and resources and encouraging all siblings to work together to give the best possible care to their aging parents.

Under a shared responsibility model, siblings can work together to create a caregiving plan that considers their aging parent's needs and the availability and abilities of each family member. 

This plan may involve dividing tasks such as transportation, meal preparation, financial management, medical appointments, and emotional support among siblings or other family members.

The shared responsibility approach provides opportunities for siblings to collaborate and support one another, which can improve communication and relationships within the entire family unit.

For example, siblings can take turns caring for their parents on the weekends or coordinate schedules to make sure someone is always available to provide support. 

Siblings can emotionally support each other as they navigate the challenges of caregiving for their aging parents. 

Siblings can encourage each other to share their thoughts and feelings openly and honestly, without fear of judgment or criticism. Regular check-ins and conversations can help ensure everyone is on the same page and can help to identify any caregiving challenges or issues early on.

Collaboration also encourages siblings to prioritize their own self-care and take breaks when needed. Siblings can pick up the slack when the others need to take time off from caregiving responsibilities to pursue hobbies or activities they enjoy or seek support from friends or a therapist. You can take better care of your parents when you take better care of yourself. 

By supporting one another emotionally, siblings can work through the challenges of caregiving for aging parents more effectively and maintain healthy relationships throughout the caregiving journey.

However, the shared responsibility model can also lead to disagreements and conflicts if siblings don’t agree on the best course of action.

One sibling may think their parent should stay in their home with the support of in-home care services, while another might think their parent would be better off in an assisted living facility.

Siblings may also have different opinions about handling their parents' finances. One sibling might think their parents' assets should be used to pay for a higher quality of care, while another may think they should save their parents' money for any future medical emergencies or expenses.

Disagreements, conflicts, and hurt feelings are challenges that many siblings face when caring for aging parents. But by addressing these challenges head-on and working together, you can find solutions that work for everyone involved.

How to Manage Sibling Conflicts 

You and your siblings should strive to have open and honest conversations to manage conflicts effectively. 

Setting clear expectations, establishing boundaries, and seeking professional support can help your family through disagreements and work towards the shared goal of caring for your parents. 

When you and your siblings start to share caregiving responsibilities, set clear expectations about what each person's role will be. You can outline responsibilities for daily care, transportation to medical appointments, financial management, and more.

You should also establish clear expectations for communication and decision-making, such as how often siblings will check in with one another and how healthcare decisions for your parents will be made.

This is where Trustworthy can help you. If you're like many families, and your siblings are scattered across the country, you'll need a clear understanding of what to do and who has decision-making authority in the unfortunate event of a medical emergency involving your parent. 

With Trustworthy, your siblings and parents can upload and privately share important legal documents, such as healthcare power of attorney, wills, and do-not-resuscitate orders

Trustworthy allows you and your siblings to have cloud-based access to the vital and legally-binding documents that come with elder and end-of-life care. 

If you and your siblings can’t come to an agreement or settle an argument, you may need to meet with a professional mediator, family counselor, or social worker who specializes in elder care to encourage difficult conversations and come up with a plan of action that works for the entire family.

  • Remember: when disagreements arise, focus on your shared goal of providing the best possible care for your aging parents. By focusing on this goal, you and your siblings can work together to find solutions that meet everyone's needs. 

You should also remember that caregiving responsibilities may change over time, and siblings may need to be flexible and adapt their plans accordingly.

In the early stages of elder care, your primary focus may be on emotional support for your parents, helping with household tasks, and coordinating your parents' medical appointments. 

As your parent's health declines, more hands-on care may be needed, such as help with personal hygiene and medication administration. Ultimately, end-of-life care may be necessary.

You and your siblings should reassess your roles and responsibilities periodically to ensure you are meeting your parents' changing needs and that the workload is distributed fairly.

Tips for Improving Your Situation

If one or more siblings are not actively participating in caregiving responsibilities, there are ways to encourage their involvement. Family meetings, delegating tasks, and offering support and resources can help siblings feel more comfortable and confident in their role as caregivers.

Set a time and date for a family meeting to discuss changes in your parent's health and caregiving needs. Make sure all siblings are included in the meeting, even if they are not directly involved in caregiving.

During your family meeting, you can review each sibling's current roles and responsibilities in providing care for your parents. Be honest about what is working and what is not, and encourage open communication and feedback.

You can also research what resources are available in your city. You can Google respite care or support groups to provide extra assistance to your aging parents.

If the caregiving workload is getting too much for you and your siblings to handle, you can think about hiring a home health aide.

Before hiring a home health aide, you should first evaluate your parents' specific needs. 

For example, dementia or Alzheimer's patients may need more specialized care than elderly parents who are generally healthy but just need a ride to medical appointments. 

You can look for home health agencies in your area and compare their services and pricing. You can also use online directories such as the Eldercare Locator or Medicare's Home Health Compare tool to find licensed agencies.

Once you and your siblings have identified a few home health agencies, you can interview potential home health aides to determine if they have the necessary skills and experience to care for your parents. It’s standard practice to ask for references and verify their credentials.

Make sure you check with your parents' insurance provider to determine which home health services are covered and the costs. 

Medicare and Medicaid may cover the cost of home health care if your parents are homebound, meaning they have difficulty leaving the home without assistance due to a medical condition or if your elderly parents meet certain eligibility criteria, such as having a low income. 

According to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey 2021, the national average cost of hiring a home health aide is $24 per hour, but this can range from $19 to $35 per hour, depending on your state and the agency you choose. 

How Can Trustworthy Help?

Caring for aging parents can be a challenging and emotional experience for you and your siblings. It takes a serious amount of time, effort, and money to make sure your parents are getting the best possible care. 

However, by working together, you and your siblings can alleviate the burden of caregiving and provide better care for your parents. 

Clear communication, setting boundaries, seeking professional support, and periodically reassessing roles and responsibilities are essential to avoiding conflicts and ensuring that each sibling contributes equally.

At the same time, keeping track of important legal documents, such as wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives is crucial when caring for your aging parents. 

These documents ensure that your parent's wishes are respected and that their financial, legal, and healthcare needs are met. 

Trustworthy provides you and your loved ones with a secure and easy-to-use platform for storing and sharing these documents among family members. 

With Trustworthy, you and your siblings can keep important legal documents safe and accessible, eliminating the stress and confusion that can arise when documents are lost or misplaced.

Sign up for your free 14-day trial with Trustworthy today.