Dear Family Advisor

How to Coordinate Caregiving Finances With Siblings

Last updated:

December 20, 2011

I have two siblings, but I live closest to our mom and handle most of her care. I drive her to all her appointments; get her groceries, personal, and medical items; and coordinate her home health aides. Mom's small income doesn't cover it all, and so my siblings and I have agreed to cover the rest.

The problem is, they expect me to put payments on my credit card and then submit the statement to them for payment. We wind up arguing whether I should have gone to one pharmacy over another to save a few bucks, or whether she really needs home health aides three days a week. Worst of all, they don't pay me within 30 days, and I'm starting to incur hefty interest fees. I wonder if they'll ever reimburse me for some items, because they don't think they're necessities.

I don't like defending myself. I'm doing the best I can for our mom, and I don't want to scrimp on her care because I'm afraid I won't get paid back. I've offered various solutions for the financial side of this, but it's their attitude that I'm most concerned with. They're taking advantage of me, and it's our mom who will ultimately suffer.

Being the primary caregiver comes with many responsibilities -- and much of the blame. It's time to stand firm and to make it clear that you can't be pecked to pieces. Consider opening a care checking account in which all of you donate a certain amount each month. Checks can be written from that account, with any remaining money rolling over. That way, nobody is being held in limbo.

I suggest that you keep a log of all the things you do for your mother, and the time it takes. Show them the enormous number of hours and amount of work you commit to her. Include items such as home repairs and upkeep on her property. You and your siblings all need to see, clearly laid out, what goes into the care of your mom. Caregiving is an enormous commitment.

You might also research what it would cost if your family were to hire out these various services. Include the cost of round-the-clock care or a long-term care facility, in case you were no longer able to care for your mother. Compiling these costs can show everyone how valuable home care really is. Don't do it to be defensive, but do it to show your family (and yourself) the value of what you're doing, so they can treat you with respect and appreciation.

When it comes to questions about the expenses, a care checking account would eliminate this, but put some thought into who can be on the account. Three "cooks in the kitchen" can write a lot of checks and cause havoc. Simply state that since you do the majority of the care, they'll have to trust you, particularly on small matters (you could define a price limit of, say, $100). Then you won't be asking for permission or feeling that you'll get in trouble when you have to make a quick but necessary decision. If you're being grilled about an item you've bought or a decision you've made, then give that item or decision over to those who are questioning you. Tell them (not in an ugly way) that now they need to champion this area. Just because you're the primary caregiver doesn't mean you're the only caregiver. Let them know that in a factual, nonconfrontational way.

Which leads me to say: Let other family members get more involved. You need to walk a mile in their shoes as well -- it will give everyone more empathy if you all realize what it feels like to be on the various sides of caregiving. Try not to be oversensitive. Sometimes we focus on the one negative thing that's said in a three-hour conversation, and we completely lose the fact that most of it was good. Let some comments roll off your back. They may never understand what it's like to provide full-time care for someone, and that's OK. Really begin to feel your own worth -- not in an angry way, but knowing that you've given your parent, and your family, a wonderful gift by providing consistent care.

It feels much better when you don't feel cornered, and when you feel that what you're giving is respected. That respect has to start with how you feel about yourself. Try to incorporate a little humor and team spirit into your family when it comes to caregiving. It's great that your mom has several children, and I'm positive she doesn't want her care to cause you all to quarrel. Lighten the mood a little. Use some banter, get together to play cards, go bowling, rent a movie, or just hang out. Our lives get so busy, and caregiving can seem so overwhelming, that we sometimes forget the benefits of being in a family. Sure, sometimes we squabble, but being part of a big, caring, chaotic family is a good thing.