Dear Family Advisor

My brother won't share financial information about our dad's assets, and it's tearing the family apart.

Last updated:

August 25, 2008

My brother has durable power of attorney for my dad, who has dementia. There are seven other siblings. My brother has not and will not provide financial information about Dad's assets and resources. He isn't forthcoming with the money to fund our dad's professional care nor to reimburse expenses incurred by family caregivers, and he has created a great deal of hostility in what is an otherwise rather cohesive family. What to do?

Caregiving can stir up emotions and divide otherwise close families with big and little misunderstandings. As difficult as it is to think about, one day all of you will gather to remember your father. You'll want that day to be filled with love and grace for everyone. If you can possibly come together, share your concerns, and settle them without judgment, you'll go a long way toward making such a day possible.

Keep in mind that the primary goal for all of you must be that your father receives the best care and support he can. With that in mind, I'd suggest that you and however many of your siblings are available -- including the brother with power of attorney -- get together for a talk. Because this is a potentially volatile situation, consider bringing in a mediator to keep things focused and civil.

Be clear with your brother about your concerns, but try not to gang up on him. Tell him what areas you need and expect him to take care of in his role, and ask him if he's having difficulty meeting any of them. He may have a very different view of things -- he may feel isolated and resentful. The more you listen, the more you'll learn what's been going on from his perspective.

Then share with him how the siblings expect things to be handled -- such as sharing your father's medical and financial statements and making sure he's receiving adequate care. Ask your brother if he needs help with any of this. Let him know that you don't just want things from him but want to help out.

If he still refuses your requests, tell him you have a right to "see the books" and to be reassured that your father is receiving adequate care. If you have any proof otherwise, it's wise to collect and verify it now, in case you need it in the future. This may be enough to get your brother in gear. Perhaps he's slacking because he's burned out or has problems in his work or personal life. He may start managing his role more responsibly or relinquish it willingly. On the other hand, no matter how nonjudgmental you try to be, prepare yourself that he may also feel threatened or defensive.

Your father's dementia diagnosis doesn't necessarily mean he can't have input into this decision too. What's your dad's mental status? Does he recognize his children? Does he realize he gave his son the right to handle his legal and financial decisions? Does he know what that means? If he does, and if your brother agrees to a change, then your father can sign a paper to relieve his son of his DPOA duties and select another person in his place.

If your father can no longer make decisions for himself, and if your brother is unwilling or unable to care for him properly, then you'll need to contact an elder law attorney to have the durable power of attorney changed. Of course, your brother might also want to take this to court. If that's the case, you and your other siblings will need to show the court reason to change durable power of attorney, which means you'll need to document neglect, abuse, withholding of funds, and his refusal to cooperate with other siblings.

If you do decide this needs to go to court, you and your siblings should begin to make some decisions, such as: Who will be the new DPOA? How will the duties be split among the siblings? How will information be communicated so that everyone feels a part of Dad's care? How will future concerns and disputes be resolved?

While one sibling may be the DPOA, there are plenty of family caregiving responsibilities that can, and should, be shared, and since there are many siblings, it only makes sense to lighten the load so that no one gets burned out. Even out-of-town siblings can play a role -- giving the primary caregiver a vacation, doing spring cleaning, dealing with Medicare and other insurance issues -- as well as providing emotional support for those who are doing the day-to-day care.

If at all possible, it's best for everyone involved to try to work this out without going to court. That's why it's very important how you approach your brother. Let go of past grievances as best you can and cut yourselves some slack -- you're all trying to figure this out as you go along. Talk about the best ways to communicate and share the responsibilities. Remember that for most of your life, you've been a cohesive family, and work toward becoming that again.