How do I tell my sister I don't think the caregiving situation with our father is financially fair?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 24, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

About seven years ago, my father sold his home and, after being offered by both my sister and I, decided to move in with her. I had just bought a large home that had plenty of space, but she had lived with him for several years with her daughter, and even for a time after getting married while they saved for a home, so he felt more comfortable with her. He had given them money toward their first home. He sold his home and put $60k toward the purchase of a larger home for them. He ended up helping them pay for the repairs that had to be done to sell their modest home. Then he paid about $20k to refinish their lower level into an in-law suite with a kitchenette. He would be getting nearly his full pay until his disability ran out and he agreed to pay $500 per month toward bills. Over the next 5 years he paid more than that per month paying both the power bills and the cable/phone/internet bills. In addition he contributed significantly to groceries, paid for lawn service, bought a shed, riding mower, repaved driveway and had decorative light pedestals and paver walkways and patios put in, contributed to or bought several appliances, heater replacement, paid for their children's extra lessons, bought several computers..and on and on. The entire time he had been basically self reliant, but obese, so had only needed minimal help with his feet, which he can't reach. His relationship with my sister and her husband has gradually deteriorated. I have tried to smooth things, but it has reached a point where oever the last year he has stopped going upstairs at all. He hasn't spoken to my brother in-law at all, and my sister only comes down and speaks to him when she has to do laundry. She started asking me to come over and take care of his feet. Now his disability has ended, and he has gradually stopped paying for things, now telling her he can only pay the $200 cable bill per month. He has been making his own meals and having his groceries delivered for over a year, so he has asked very little of them. The resentment has boilied over and she is now asking me to take him into our home. I am now in an entirely different situation, and would have to remodel to accommodate him. He has very little money in his retirement because of the market drop and basically giving it all to her. His attitude has been he will be there until his death or having to be institutionalized and he'd rather give it over to her now than surrender it. I have been fine with all of this, becaue I recognize what she will be taking on when he actually does need care. In short, I'm enraged because she has reaped significantly from this arrangement, only to threaten to "drop him on my doorstep" as her husband put it.

What do I do?!

Expert Answers

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

You are in a tough spot and the issue of fairness is not just about your sister. It is important to keep in mind that your father also has a role in the lack of financial fairness. From what we understand, your father was not thinking about how he would equalize his financial resources for his two daughters when he helped your sister purchase her first house and provided $60,000 to purchase a larger home for she and her husband and eventually himself. It appears he also was not thinking ahead to the end of his disability and limited retirement when he continued to pay for household upgrades beyond what was needed. Perhaps your sister influenced his decision making but there no hint that he wasn't capable of making those choices. Acknowledging your father's part is important to remember as you and your family works this out. There are two major issues for your family to resolve: Does your father continue to live with your sister or with you? Is there a way to balance the lack of financial fairness? Because of the potential difficulty in communication, we strongly suggest that you, your father, your sister and her husband seek family counseling. The counselor will guide your conversations, and it seems in those sessions, the following will be important to address. Your sister, her husband and your father need to work through what happened to their relationship? What events or misunderstandings lead to the deterioration? What do they need from each other to improve their communication? They have a big investment of time and money to not work through their difficulties. Also, talk with your sister about your sense of the financial unfairness in the caregiving situation. See if she is able understand that your father's contributions to the first home plus the re-model and upgrades of her second home contributed to a drain of your father's financial resources and increased the value of their home. What might have been shared between the two of you is now invested in her house. Let her know that it doesn't make sense for you to use your own money to remodel your house to accommodate your father when she has reaped significantly from this arrangement with your father.
If you and your sister can work together, you may want to begin a conversation with your father about assisted living. It seems he purposely drained his resources so he wouldn't have to pay for his long-term care, and it's not clear to us if there are any public or private resources available to fund this care. Once you ascertain the details of those options, you probably are going to have to make some hard decisions. Either your father continues to live with your sister, you make the extra effort to bring him to your place, or allow him to move into some kind of publicly assisted location that may be less than ideal. We wish we knew of other options, but none come to mind.