Sibling Disputes over Parents' Care & Finances

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Worried about Sister Controlling Elderly Mother

Sep 2011

My middle aged sister has been living with my 85 year old mother for many years. She had been working part time but got laid off. We are worried that she is overly controlling my mother to set herself up as full time caregiver and to isolate my mother from the rest of the family. My mom is still healthy and capable and likes to have time alone and do things for herself but is becoming overwhelmed by my sisters bossing and controlling everything. My brother and I are very worried. We have the financial side of things in check but desperately need some kind of family counselor to come and meet with the whole family and talk about what mom wants and needs in a way she can feel supported. Are there special elder therapists that will come to my mom's home? worried daughter

You have spotted a family issue that often requires court and legal resolution. Heirs and children must deal with the estate through probate if there is no revocable living trust. Heirs and children may need court intevention even while the parent is alive, if there are issues about competency, and use of the parent's assets.

It would be helpful to guide your mother toward estate planning while she is still mentally competent and is not physically dependent upon your sister for care.

In absence of a will or trust many elderly people encounter issues of personal,financial and property management during their lives, and heir problems after their death.

The probate courts frequently see cases where an adult child has been living in the parent's home, and feels an entitlement to continue this arrangement.

Wills and Trusts attorneys frequently encounter elderly potential clients who are brought to the attorney by an adult child, and ethically cannot represent the elder. Please encourage your mother to contact an attorney of HER choice

My brother is misusing my mother's funds

Oct 2010

I really need some good suggestions from this community for a tricky problem. My mother has mid-stage Alzheimers and has no capacity to manage her finances. Two of my brothers were designated as trustees and manage my motherC,bs money. My mother has reasonable resources for her retirement and end-of-life, although she is definitely not rich. Unfortunately, one of my brothers (one trustee) is spending a lot of her money on his basic life needs, since he has a struggling small business and a high-needs child. He has run up a very large credit card debt with high interest and no stated end in sight, and also gets regular assistance on mortgage and health insurance, student loans, etc. What's going on is not fair to my mother and is also not fair to the siblings who are quickly losing their inheritance due to my brother's financial woes. I need suggestions for three kinds of assistance:

1)What kind of financial expert can I contact who will work with the adult siblings to create an accurate assessment of my mother's end-of-life resources and end of life needs? This is a very important assessment, and I need to hire someone who has shown that they're really excellent. 2)Who can I work with to help me and the other two siblings communicate with the sibling whose spending is out of control and bring an end to this pattern? This is all made more difficult by the fact that we are scattered across the country. 3)Do you have any recommendations for lawyers who can help us figure out if or how my brother is violating the trust agreement? Any suggestions you have would be most appreciated! Thanks. Concerned sister

First off, I am not an attorney. That being said, there are a few things at play here:

- It is possible that your mother intended for your brother to be provided for (provisions that may not have been disclosed to you). It may drive you crazy, but if she wanted that, there is not much that you can do about it.

- If she didn't, then your brother, as Trustee is possibly guilty of abuse of trust: breach of fiduciary duty by the trustee and could then find himself in trouble under Calfornia State law with respect to elder abuse - a matter that the judicial takes very seriously. The following publication should give you an idea of what constitutes elder abuse. Financial abuse is just one form.

Len Tillem, the KGO radio lawyer will answer some questions for free on his website, It is a great resource. If you need more, he would be a good place to start.

I would ask the brother that is not helping himself to the trust to help you understand your mother's intentions and the importance of providing for her care. If she did not intend to provide for your brother, then I would suggest to your non abusing brother to consider relieving the embezzling brother of his duties since your mother's Trust is not his piggy bank. You can also suggest that, by not protecting her from the embezzling brother, he is not fulfilling his fiduciary duty. Hope this helps! Trustee

Sorry to hear you are experiencing what is an ever growing problem - elder fiduciary abuse. This said, before you do anything else, I would call Adult Protective Services (APS) and report the situation as fiduciary abuse. FYI - they are a county mandated service that deals with dependent adults 18+ and adults 60+. I would collect as much data/proof as you have and call & speak to an intake social worker. Given the fiscal crisis in the state, they are one of the unfortunate programs to have experienced cutbacks, but will at least be a neutral, informed party for which to report your situation. They may take approx. 10 days to send out a social worker to investigate, but you will start a legal trail if your mother needs to be conserved at some point. Hopefully this helps and good luck....... anon

I would call Len Tillem's office. He is a lawyer who specializes in this and has a regular call-in program on KGO. I think he also has a website where he reviews information like this. Nikki

I think you should call Adult Protective Services-what your brother is doing is actually illegal, and constitutes elder abuse/neglect (in the financial realm). anon

Dear Concerned Sister,

I recommend that you seek the legal counsel of attorney Priscilla Camp at the firm, Camp Rousseau Montgomery website: When you call the firm at 510-465-3885 you will go through a screening interview with the office manager, Deirdre O'Connell (or someone else if Deirdre is away) and then be given an appointment with Priscilla. She and her firm deal with situations such as your family's regularly.

Priscilla Camp is a good friend of mine and I was honored to attend an event a year ago in which she received a Lifetime Career Achievement Award from Legal Assistance to Seniors. She is a founding member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, was past President of Women Lawyers of Alameda County, and has been included in the Northern California Super Lawyers list 2006-2009. She speaks regularly to Alzheimer Family Support Groups and lectures to attorneys, doctors, and judges. She is a contributing author of three books by Continuing Education of the Bar: California Elder Law, 1993-20020; California Durable Powers of Attorney, 1996-2005; and Capacity and Undue Influence 1999-2006. She has been involved with Legal Assistance for Seniors for two decades (from serving as Executive Director in the early 1980s through chairing the Board Development Committee today) for two decades. In short, Priscilla Camp has been instrumental in defining the field of elder law in California through her career. I can't offer a higher recommendation. Best wishes in maintaining the health and well-being of your family as a whole. Stephanie

Need mediator for siblings dealing w/aging mom

May 2010

My husband and his 2 siblings are in disagreement about how to deal with their aging mom. They are all very busy people with years of emotional history around 'who did more' and 'who didn't do anything' when their dad was dying of cancer. These wounds go deep. Now they are having a really hard time even talking about his mom without screaming at each other. Any recommendations for a good mediator - and/or attorney that could help them at least have a civil conversation would be greatly appreciated. East Bay, Penninsula, or South Bay location. -anon

Dr. Mary Durree is a psychologist and specializes in mediation. She is very warm and has a wonderful calming presence. I can't recommend her enough. Her office is in Oakland and her number is 510-839-7080. Marie Hopper

Loretta Kuliawat from 1st Resort Mediation is fabulous. She has lots of experience with this specific type of situation. She is a calm listener and can diffuse the toughest situation. Phone: 510 415 0860 Email: 1stResortMediation [at] Website: Rachel

Go to Erica at I agree with what that other lady said earlier. I don't think that an attorney would be good in this situation because of all the sensitive family stuff. I think that Erica is a social worker, but I'm not sure. Either way, she would understand Good luck. W

Sharing the cost of elderly care - what's fair?

April 2009

I'd like advice about caring for elderly. I am the youngest of 7 children. Our mother just turned 80 and has beginning stages of alzheimer's/dimentia. My siblings decided that we should all pay our brother who lives closest to her (a recovering addict who genuinely cares for her but is a freeloader) to provide care (everyone else lives 1 hour or more away or out of state). Mom insists on living in her home and having him care for her. We found a qualified care provider and she lasted one week. Mom chased her away because she wanted her son instead. I am the youngest sibling and have 4 young children, one with a medical condition and some special needs which require extra expense and I have decided not to work in order to care for the children so I am fully supported by my husband (and my husband is paying of a lot of debt which he incurred prior to our marriage). We live in a house that is too small but are sacrificing. My question is should I have to pay the same amount as my other siblings who don't have children at all? They have much more discretionary income without kids and are maxing out their retirement plans while I am contributing nothing. I am the only one with young children. I have only one other sibling with children under 18 and she is married to a wealthy doctor so money is not an issue for them. I feel like it's unfair to expect me to pay the same amount. I am inclined to commit to an amount that I feel is reasonable given my family circumstances but I know my siblings will hold it against me. What seems fair and reasonable? Thanks.

Until recently, I had four elderly parents. My step-dad passed away last November. My three remaining parents are needing more and more care and I live far away from all of them.

I feel for your mother, siblings and you. If the sibling who is going to provide care for mom, and is a recovering addict and a 'free-loader'I hope you all are figuring out a way to provide financial support without putting all the money directly in his hands.

As for contributing to support the caregiver, I strongly encourage you to provide what you can actually afford (with contributing to your own retirement and college planning first) and no more. It sounds like there are financial means among your siblings. Otherwise, when you are elderly yourself, you may not have the means to care for yourself. Best wishes to you. Sandy

It is a very difficult situation, one that more & more people share. You should be upfront w/your sibs, about what you can & can't do as your $$ share. It makes no sense to give equally when what is overwhelming for you & could really deprive your children may be very small to another sib in different situation. Perhaps having a professional from a family service agency give some practical advice from past similar circumstances would help other sibs realize what you & husband face. Happy Grandmother

This is your mother, determine what if anything you can honestly afford and give that amount. There should be no feeling guilty, you are doing what you can. Offer to take care of mom in other ways, visit for the weekend so your caretaker brother can have some time off. mom of 4

I also am the youngest of 7 and my parents are in their 80s. I am also a geriatric social worker. I have some ideas, not sure if they will work for your family.

What I think is needed is to have your brother who will be your mom's caregiver give all of you a breakdown of costs for your mom monthly. Then can all of you meet somehow, maybe even send out a mass e-mail with the figures and say ''I will be responsible for the utilities, the food, the rent, etc.'' I dont' know where your mom lives, but here in California we have In-Home Supportive Services, where the state pays a caregiver of a disabled person. The pay can be up to $12 an hour, which could give your brother an income. And they offer health benefits sometimes as well. Another option is hiring a care manager (which costs $$) who can sort of manage your brother, and inform all of you of what's going on, work with your mother and her doctor, etc. But that costs at least $500- $1000 a month.

I really feel for you. I am lucky that this has not happened to me yet, but I know my family will probably have WWIII if we need to make any communal decisions for my parents. anon

Siblings not accepting mom's dementia, not helping

Sept 2007

My mother was recently diagnosed with dementia and on the onset of Alzheimers. She lives with my father but is driving him batty. Out of the four kids, I'm the only one who will take the time off from work and leave my husband and three sons to take my mother to her physician appts and ER room when she has her erratic episodes. My father is up in age and is very limited in his physical capabilities. I'm blessed in that I have an extremely understanding husband who helps and attends the children when I have to attend to my parents needs.

My siblings are all married and employed and live in the radius of the Bay Area, one in the North Bay, one in the South Bay, one in the Pennisula, and, me, in the East Bay. My folks live in their home in San Francisco. My siblings have expressed to me that they're all too busy and have their own lives to deal with and they can't deal with ''mom and dad.'' So basically I'm on my own. None of them either will accept the fact that my mother has been diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimers.

I feel resentful, sad, and overwhelmed that I have to carry the majority of the burden. Sometimes I simply cry myself to sleep thinking about how I'm losing my mother to this disease and how my father feels overwhelmed as well. I am simply wondering if anyone else has gone through this and how do you cope. I've decided to read books on dementia and alzheimers and keep close contact with my mother's physicians and psychiatrist to educate myself as to what to expect. I simply feel alone in a world where I've lost myself to everyone else's needs. Maybe I'm just being selfish. I don't know. Confused and Saddened

I have two recommendations: 1) Family Caregiver Alliance, they are in San Francisco. They have a terrific website and I believe they would assist you in facilitating a family meeting, getting into a support group, etc. You may have already contacted the Alzheimer Association, they too can set up family meetings. Both agencys have social workers and therapists trained to work with families and seniors in just this sort of situation. They can also assist you in answering questions about paid caregivers. 2) Another terrific agency is Eldercare Services They are pricey, but very good. They are located in Walnut Creek, but have an office in SF. Good luck. Shauna

This is not an uncommon situation. Denial is a very convenient way to simplify one's life. Sort of the opposite of what you are doing. I recently was advised to consult with a social worker about my mother in law. From what I understand, the social worker will meet with me, my husband, and his mother and then offer advice on how to cope with the situation. I bet you'd get alot of good advice from such a consultation. Check with your mother's doctor, or even your own as to how to set up such an appointment. anon

I don't know how helpful I can be -- I mostly wanted to say that you should be proud you are doing the right thing by your parents. You are slowly assuming a burden that I know from experience can be overwhelming.

I once worked as a caregiver for an elderly man with multiple physical ailments including Alzheimer's. He also had a wife and several grown, healthy, financially solvent children who, for the most part, couldn't be bothered.

The time will come when your mother will need more care than even you can provide without overwhelming your own life and its demands. Your sibs probably are minimizing and ignoring the reality of what is going on, hoping or assuming that someone else will deal with this. They're probably glad it's you.

The only thing I can suggest is writing a letter to them outlining exactly what kind of care is needed and exactly how this can be divided among each other's time. With any luck, they will realize their moral responsibiity here.

Are your parents able to start paying for an (at least) part- time caregiver? This must all be overwhelming to your dad. If your siblings can't put in the time, maybe a financial donation could be substituted to help pay for care.

Don't be surprised if they try to weasel out of that too (everyone is always ''too busy'' ''too financially stressed''). Sometimes people think if they help a little bit, they'll end up getting sucked into doing more (example: you). You may end up doing the lion's share and won't necessarily get thanked for it! When you do get some sleep (!), at least you can sleep better knowing you are a good person. Best of luck to you

Of course you are confused and saddened! You are losing your mother to a terrible disease. You don't sound selfish to me. Please find yourself some support through the Alzheimer's association. Your siblings are in denial. Hopefully they'll come around sooner than later. I'm assuming that their ''busy lives'' include well paying jobs. There is value in what you are doing. Ask them to contribute by paying for a respite caregiver so that you and your father can have a break. Please, take care of yourself. You need to get through this with your health and sanity for yourself, your father and your family. My thoughts are with you. Been there

Whuh -- YOU're being selfish? You're kidding, right?! Look, there always seems to be one responsible kid who gets this parent stuff dumped on him or her. It happens over and over again and it stinks. I hope other people have specific advice about how to get your siblings to step up. My only advice is: Mourn if you need to mourn. Find a great support group -- there must be some. Kiss your husband. And do NOT beat yourself up for having feelings of loss and resentment. They are entirely natural, and trying to stuff them down will only make you feel worse. And you don't deserve that, because you're being a hero right now.

My mother, who recently died, suffered from dementia for several years so I understand what you are going through. The big difference is that I am an only child and my father died a few years back so in many ways it was ''easier'' on me than it is on you as far as decision-making was concerned. It isnot fair that your siblings are taking the easy way out and forcing your family to make all of the sacrifices. You and your father need to take care of yourselves too. Contact the Alzheimer's association and learn about local support groups for caregivers. You are not alone and simply having a time/place to vent with others in your position is quite helpful. Secondly, there is a good private agency called Eldercare Services and it is based in San Francisco with an office in the East Bay too. Eldercare Services offers a multitude of servies including home-health aides, family support, financial services, etc. I am sure that they would help you in setting up a family meeting with all of your siblings and your father. If nothing else, your siblings must understand the tremendous stress the rest of you are experiencing. Their website is I have used Eldercare to assist with my aunt who also has dementia but is at the stage where she can still live at home. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions. martha

I was the one out of 3 siblings that took exclusive care of my Alzheimer'd Mom, until her death last Nov. Ask me anything, I'm happy to talk...(''hard row to hoe'') ex-Sandwich Gen Mom carol

Mediator to help my brother and me resolve inheritance

March 2007

My brother (who I love dearly) and I are having some difficulties coming up with an agreed upon price and timeline for me to buy out his portion of my mom's house. I think our relationship would benefit from having a mediation session to hammer out the details. Any recommendations for a particular mediator or advice on the mediation process would be most appreciated. anon

Dear Anon, Mediation is likely the perfect process to work out the sales details between you and your brother. It is voluntary (since there is no litigation in your situation) and can cost anywhere from $200 - $300 per hour. Mediators sometimes give discounted rates. Basically, you and your brother will sit down together and the mediator will facilitate a conversation between the two of you, which will involve listening to each of you carefully and helping you each hear each other better, so that an agreement can be worked out. If you want a legally enforceable agreement, it is wise to use an attorney-mediator or hire separate legal counsel to review the agreement once you've written it. A friend of mine, Claudia Viera, is a great mediator (and an attorney) and I highly recommend her. She does work with families in addition to employers/employees. You can access her web site at:
Good luck to you and you brother. Claudia W

Mediator to help siblings resolve care for mom

January 2007

Hi - Does anyone have information about finding a family mediator / conflict resolution counselor? There are a number of BPN postings for divorce, child custody, inheritance etc mediators. But we're not facing a legal issue - we just cannot seem to resolve how to care for our elderly mother since our father has died. She has dementia so cannot live alone, but the six adult siblings are divided about how to care for her. She is living with one of us, and another actually ''Mom-napped'' her last weekend! We have so many years of conflicts and are having a hard time just communicating with each other. It seems as if there should be someone out there trained in helping family members talk to each other. We don't want to get into long drawn-out family counseling sessions, but we just want to make a plan together and stick with it. Though I live in Berkeley, most of us live in the San Francisco / Peninsula area so if you know of anyone on that side of the Bay we'd be grateful for the recommendations. Thanks!
''we put the fun in dysfunction''!

A great mediator based in Oakland is Marvin Schwartz, phone (510) 530-1283. He is also a trainer (I was certified through his class), and is active in the mediation community, so if it has to be someone on the peninsula, I'm sure he'd be able to make a recommendation. But he's very good, so worth considering on his own. Claudia C

We recently posted a recommendation for a mediator. Our issue was couple related, but Robert has extensive family and community mediation and I am certain he would be able to help you in ways you never expected.

We are a couple who have been together for over a decade and always considered ourselves completely open with each other and had very little disagreements throughout the years. This actually made it harder to deal with big issues that came about, as our life was taking new directions. With Robert\xc2\x92s help, we managed to deepen our relationship in ways we didn\xc2\x92t think were still possible. Applying techniques of active listening and non-violent communication, Robert helped us understand the core of our individual hurt and how it is manifested in this specific case. In the mediation process we learned to be better listeners of ourselves and our own needs and then express our needs and feelings in a way that gives full legitimization to the other\xc2\x92s needs and feelings. Robert emphasized the need to apply the new insights to our daily practices as a couple and he offered concrete ways to do so, and by that preventing further misunderstandings. After each mediation session we felt uplifted, relieved and happy and this is why we want to recommend Robert. We think his skill is beyond description \xc2\x96 you need to experience it yourself to understand, and we hope you would. He is a compassionate person and a truly dedicated mediator, with a mission to use his talent to heal and deepen relationships. Among his credentials are a masters degree in peace and conflict studies, a law degree, conflict resolution training and an extensive community mediation experience. Please contact him directly: rterris[at] Cali