Can I sue my sibling for not helping me care for my parents?

15 answers | Last updated: Oct 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Is there anyway I can bring suit against my sister, who has estranged herself from the family and left me with 24/7 care of my 90 and 92 yr old parents? I am struggling to care for them at this point. I am using local resources to try to get some help. Thank you for response.

Expert Answers

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

There is no legal obligation to provide care for your parents. That is true for you, too. You do not have to care for them. It will help you be less resentful if you recognize that you are doing this because you CHOOSE to do it.

You may feel that there is no other option, but there is. You can walk away, same as your sister. She will have to live with the consequences of her decision in the years to come. She also will live with the results of your decision to provide care.

Not only can you choose whether or not to provide care, you can also choose what kind of care, and decide what your limits are. You can decide to go with them to medical appointments, or not. You can decide to cook for them, or not. Any assistance they have from you is more than they would have if you opt out.

My suggestion is that you do what you can without threatening your future memories and self esteem. Good luck - it's not easy, bu often it is worth the effort.

Community Answers

Jeneration answered...

I already knew the answer, guess I was having a "bad" day that day. I have been full time caregiver for my folks for 3 yrs now ... My Father passed away a month ago, but my 93 yr old Mom is doing very well following a bout of pneumonia ... I have no intention of walking away ... forget how I would feel and MY memories ... I want to help her preserve hers :)

She may be 93, frail and physically challenged but she's still one sharp cookie!

A fellow caregiver answered...

My Mom has AD. I am her caregiver. I get little help or support from my sister who lives locally. She brings her a fast food dinner about three times a month. That is it. Absolutely no help comes from my brother. He lives about an hour away but he travels through here at least once a week. On a good month he might spend a total of an hour with Mom. The only thing he has done since my Mother's diagnosis was to try to get her to change her will and POA, making himself executor and giving himself POA for finances and medical. Luckily, Mom did not understand the documents and would not sign them. She received a bill for $600+ from the lawyer my brother hired to rewrite the documents, which she ended up paying.

My brother refuses to speak to me or respond to emails. My sister has taken my brother's side and has become very cold towards me. They say I turned our mother against my brother.

I was made POA and executor for both parents more than 15 years ago and before my Dad passed away. I now consider myself an only child and act accordingly. (Although I still notify both of my siblings of important changes, etc.) I have come to realize that neither my brother nor sister REALLY CARE about Mom's well being or what happens to her. Examples to back up my assumption: Last summer my sister asked why I was doing yard work for Mom. I told her that if I didn't do it Mom would and I didn't want her to get hurt. She had already fallen twice in 6 months and has severe osteoporosis. Sis responded with, "Let her fall; she will then learn not to do the work." SHOCKING!!! There are many examples, over the more than 40 years that my brother has been an adult, showing his lack of caring, besides his infrequent visits. On one visit after Dad died, when Mom asked him for help with some minor carpentry work, he told her to do it herself.

I feel so lucky to be able to care for my mom and believe that everyday I spend with her is a blessing. Knowing this helps me to not allow resentment of my siblings to occupy much of my thoughts. Their attitudes are accepted as part of my Mother's and my reality.

Thanks for letting me vent. I will not identify myself as I think my sister actually sometimes reads

A fellow caregiver answered...

ASTOUNDING that you can sue for defamation of character should an estranged sibling slander you but a parent cannot sue their adult child for profound neglect of them. America sucks. Let that speak to everyone's conscious. I say this having looked after my mentally ill and frail mother (who lost custody of me to the state years and years ago) without a blink or a lick of help of any kind. It came to me either taking my own life or fleeing. I fled.

I read here a profoundly fortunate bunch to nice it up by saying you must have been having a bad day to make such an inquiry. I say: keep having a bad day until you get the answer you need.

This has to be argued in the supreme court. Has to.

A fellow caregiver answered...

There are filial responsibility laws in about 29 states in the USA which define financial responsibility for adult family members, mostly who are indigent. In some states, i.e. Pennsylvania those laws aren't limited to adult family that receive public support. Check online or with an elder attorney to see what the laws are in your state.

A fellow caregiver answered...

In the end, you want good memories of your elderly loved one. The crap can hit the fan at any point. People are selfish, will let you do all the work, and that's who they are. You see your parent with all their health problems, and you help them to best of your ability. Your siblings might not ever understand the depth of your commitment, but it's not about them. It's about your parent. If it were yourself who was elderly and frail, would you really want to deal with the humiliation of one kid helping, and the other one not? Just know you may never get any recognition or anything other than a simple "thank you". It's not our feelings or our words that count in this life, it's what we DO.

Ginabea answered...

I was and remain interested in the answers to this question. Like everyone's situation, mine is complicated by estrangement of my older and only sister. Another fire on the iron is that my mother was proven unfit years ago now to parent. I have spent a great deal of time, work, heartbreak (repeated reminders of real neglect) spinning plates, making sure she is receiving care, making sure she falls in line to qualify for some assistance (she is in her mid 70's with the start of Parkinson's). I moved out of state two years ago and I still see her twice a year, working my tail off bringing her personal aids and case worker and everyone to the table to review and improve.

I would love the supreme court to address this. Am I just more human than my older sister? Or am I a fool to care for a woman who could not care for me? Am I required to care for her? Really?

D... answered...

I also have a sister who does absolutely nothing to help her elderly frail disabled mother. I take care of my mother financially and emotionally and it is very stressful for me.

I am angry at my sister for not caring and helping, even if only a small amount for my sake. I decided to let the relationship with her go permanently, because when someone is selfish they don't deserve our presence in their life anymore.

My advice to anyone who is also going through this pain, is to remember that some people are their own punishment in life.

When parents pass away, the children who have not helped and turned their back on their parents, they will suffer for the rest of their life knowing they treated their parent like dirt. They will have no peace. That will be their karma.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I think it's ridiculous to expect someone to care for another human being no matter what. I understand that some siblings may be selfish or uncaring but there could be other circumstances that could prevent someone for caring for an elderly parent. Would you expect a woman to care for an elderly father who sexually abused her as a child? The statute of limitations passed and the rest of the family threatened to turn their back on her if she pressed charges, yet she is expected to assist in his care? I think perhaps it's not so black and white.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Those of you who have taken on the role of caregiver may have, consciously or not, made it impossible for one or more siblings to participate in care. We develop set ways of interacting with each other when we're infants and toddlers. Often, one wants, demands, takes a dominant role. And a common tool in the domination arsenal is to take power, and then find fault with the powerless for being powerless. Taking the handles of the parent's wheelchair, and scowling at a sibling who wants to steer the wheelchair just as much as you do for not helping steer the wheelchair. The other gives up on you. Lets you have your way. Swallows the pain. Again. Used to smile about it so you wouldn't know how hurt they are, but now just withdraws. You may be impossible to deal with, and their decision to leave it to you is far, far, far harder, and more noble, than any inconvenience you might endure as caregiver.

A fellow caregiver answered...

There is no accountability for any person to care for a parent yet parents must care for their children or else.

Resentful son in law answered...

You can sue anybody for anything, but the question is how likely are you to win compared to how much in lawyer fees will you lay out?

Your chances of winning are probably zero, but depending on how gullible your siblings are, for a couple hundred bucks you can have a lawyer send them a threatening letter and make them anxious and miserable. Maybe they'll pony up some cash.

Jane f answered...

My husband's family is having this issue. The one chosen to be POA for health and financial is angry that we live closest and don't help their mother a lot. In our case, we feel POA is not doing what is in the moms best interests. She falls constantly and has had major injury from it more than once. She is going to be 90 and lives a one. Her balance issues are a danger, and she won't use proper aids, she uses a broom to walk. She calls police constantly on neighbors accusing of dealing drugs (neighboring g house a rental, so many different people over time). She also makes reports they are breaking in and stealing, and when she finds items claims they break back in and return them, even if it different person. She has hit parked card, and drove on unaware in a parking lot (9 years ago). We offered to help, and we were helping by taking care of house, bills, grocery shopping etc, but POA refuses to have any testing done for dementia, or driving safety. She still drives, but this past week a doctor told her while I was in the more driving because he does not want kid on a bike hit! She denies he said it. Now POA is probably angry because he wants to just keep letting her continue on this way. She is doing awful with her banking and finances also. Scammed by "home repair" people to the tune of thousands. POA wants us to help do everything, but yet refuses to discuss anyone else's thoughts or concerns , mainly the safety of others! We have chosen to back off for now. If he wants total control even though we feel like he is being somewhat neglectful, then he can care for her alone. I cannot sit by and continue to see her injure herself, or drive and risk herself or others. DMV was contacted 9 years ago, they didn't have her come in to test driving skills, and she is much worse now. Division of aging did nothing either, but we tried to help. So sometimes it isn't that some siblings don't want to help, it's that nobody else's thoughts or opinions are considered, the POA only wants others to "do work stuff" and have no voice. I was helping take her to doctor, but now I am not able to get her in and out of vehicle safely. I am not strong enough, and she is frail and a huge fall risk. I have a 4 wheel drive vehicle, so even harder.

Frustrated n abused answered...

We have a controlling oldest sister who refuses to let anyone other than herself make decisions concerning our mothers care. She bullies and accuses us of not doing our fair share, even though one sibling does groceries, bills, emergency situations, and weekly trash, another does home repairs, prescriptions and doctors visits as able, and I go for regular house cleaning, occasional grocery runs, and file her taxes, etc. She turns around and blames everyone for not doing what she demands. She makes doctors appts that are 1.5 hours away from our mothers home when we all live 45 to 50 minutes in the other direction, simply because she doesn't trust anyone but a high priced specialist to take care of mom. No one can take that much time out of their work and family, and she accuses us of not participating equally. Most importantly, she has blocked every attempt at applying for state approved assistance, which would provided needed support for grocery runs, house cleaning, errands, and even transportation to doctor appts. She complains but SHE is the problem, not us. Now she is threatening to sue us for reimbursement for the things she CHOOSES to do for our mother. She has a major complex. We all show appreciation regardless of her badgering. It's a very painful situation. She does not have POA but we all let her have her way because it's what she wants. When she turns it around on us, I think we should have blocked her from taking so much on herself.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I cared for my 90 year old mother for six years without the help of anyone. Then suddenly my deadbeat older brother whisked mom away with him. Mom is not allowed to have anything to do with me.. She's let him close bank accounts that I managed for her and transfer the money to a new one with him sole beneficiary. He's sold my property because "mom's" name was on it. They ruined my retirement and mom doesn't know I exist anymore. A big stab in the back. My mother was very ill and I don't even know if she is alive today. What a horrible end to a mother and daughter relationship. I have no idea what happened.