Dear Family Advisor

My brother is bent out of shape because he wasn't named executor of our parent's estate -- I was.

Last updated:

January 03, 2012

My parents updated their will recently and named me executor. I'm not surprised; I've been their primary caregiver for the past three years and even moved nearby so that I could be available for them.

My brother is three years older than I am and he's always had the mentality that men are superior, so I think this bruises his ego. He used to drop by once or twice a month and call Dad often, but now he's backed way off, and I think it's because of my parent's decision. Dad is really hurt.

The money is still divided evenly, and there's a lot that goes into being a caregiver that my brother doesn't choose to be a part of. So why do I feel bad about all this? Should I suggest to Dad that we be co-executors, or should I talk to my brother about what's bothering him? Or should I just stay out of it?

This is a perfect time to sit still and be quiet. Your brother needs to work through his hurts and his perceptions of what it means to be a son and a man, and it's best for you to give him the space to do that. Don't try to fix things. Just continue to be the loving caregiver and family member that you are.

Your brother has to come to terms with the fact that the executor's role was given to you because you've fully invested yourself in this relationship. In time, he'll probably come to realize that he doesn't really want that role if it comes with all the caregiving responsibilities that you now shoulder. Or -- if he comes to see that he's helped create the position he's in, of being less involved and therefore less needed -- he'll work through his issues and want to become more a part of their care.

Give him time to process all this. No doubt he took for granted what his role would be. Your parents and family dynamics probably even encouraged this mindset over the years, so don't place all the blame on your brother.

As for your dad, be gentle and understanding with him, but don't meddle even though he's hurt. The awkwardness will fade in time, and this space can give them both the opportunity to ponder what got them into this situation in the first place. In time, find natural ways for your dad and brother to reconnect. If there's something your brother's really good at -- something breaks that he can fix, for example -- look for that easy, natural moment to bring him in.

The fact is, you're probably a better caregiver and perhaps a more committed family member, and that's going to sting a bit for your brother. But that doesn't mean that your dad doesn't need his son. This isn't a contest, so do your best not to contribute to that perception. Your brother has a history with his parents and with you, and it's OK if he can't be there for everything. Your parents might not need him in the same ways they need you, but they still need him.

Let your brother and your parents figure out their own relationship, how much time they spend together, what your brother does or doesn't do for them, how they interact. Step back and watch how wonderful it is when we lift our expectations and just let whatever happens happen.

What if he doesn't come around? Give it several months to subside, and then reach out to him. At first, reach out like nothing's going on -- ignoring the obvious is often the best way to get over a big hurt and kick-start a relationship. After things settle down, you can have a heart-to-heart talk, not to change the past but to remind him how much he's needed and appreciated.

If that doesn't happen and it's still awkward, then it's time for the firm talk. "Get over it, let go, step up, and do what's best for everyone" -- something along those lines. Once in a while all of us need what I call the "snap out of it" proverbial slap across the face.

Meanwhile, try for your own sake and for the good of your family to love him just as he is. Give him some time to deal with what is perhaps a different family role than he had originally planned for himself. All of us deserve a chance to change and grow.