When Siblings Disagree: Caring for an Elderly Parent Amidst Family Discord

Dear Liz,

I have four siblings, we are all in our 50’s. My mother passed away 40 years ago. My father is now 85 with Alzheimer’s for the past 7 years. I am the youngest of the four and my father gave me his health directive 8 years ago. Now that I have become my father’s legal guardian, my eldest brother has taken the role to be the “overseer” of me and reports on me to attorneys and a trustee of my Dad’s trust, in fact insisting that I report to these people on a regular basis every email, every call, every issue.

He even wanted the court to appoint him co-guardian (they did not). He tells me what I should do, how I should handle caregivers, even where my father should live (60 miles away from us because he doesn’t think interactions with my sister would be “good” for Dad). I am legally Dad’s guardian, but I am hindered by my brother and these individuals who claim they have my father’s best interests at heart. They won’t let me move him closer to where I live (and where all of us live really, including my two daughters and granddaughter) and insist I want to do this because it is more “convenient” for me since I am a single mom and I work 60 hours+ a week, running the family business (which they are all paid out by!). I am at a loss as to how to overcome this seemingly senseless opposition. It seems to be about control and ego, and I have tried to sit down and talk to all parties, but have gone around and around with no resolution. Because they hold the finances, I feel like this will be a never-ending battle for whatever time my Dad has left. My other three siblings support me, however my eldest brother definitely has the ear of the attorney and the trustee. They definitely send me in circles that go nowhere, resolve nothing. Meanwhile, my dad lives in a house with a live-in caregiver and is surrounded by other caregivers 24/7. While I visit 1-2X a week, it frustrates me that I can’t do more for him and I am totally baffled by the lack of support by the eldest brother, attorney and trustee. Other than seeking legal help, what can I do to provide the level of care that I would like to have for my Dad?

 *This question was edited for length

Dear Friend,

Given the facts you’ve shared, I agree that this opposition feels senseless. But your family is actually in a state of grief, and grief brings about the very best, and the very worst, in family members. I imagine your brother’s attempt to maintain control is rooted in his upset—humiliation even—for not being chosen to serve as guardian. Nonetheless, the best interest of your dad cannot fall second to this familial rift.

The fact that your father entrusted you with the most important aspect of his personal life—his health and well-being—means he trusted your abilities to understand his wants, advocate for him, and protect his most sacred interests. Thus, I will begin by inviting you to trust yourself as you discern what is genuinely in the best interest of your father, and then take action. It sounds like you already have the support of your sisters; lean into that support as you proceed.

Perhaps try this: Bring your sisters together, and your daughters, and have a constructive family meeting (I’d suggest including your brother, but it seems he may not be up for collaborating). These questions may help all of you gain some clarity about how to proceed:

  • If dad could speak for himself, where would he want to live—would proximity, thus daily visits from family, be his wish?
  • If dad were witnessing this family discord, what would he suggest? What would he want to see happen between his children and grandchildren?
  • Why did dad choose (     ) over the other children, to be his guardian? What capabilities did he see in (     ) and trust in (     )?
  • What might be the deeper reason for brother’s resistance to the move?
  • What logistical and financial decisions will need to be made to bring the move about in the next 6 months?

The fact that you are aiming to move your father closer to family demonstrates your genuine interest in his well-being. He could receive regular visits, it will be easier for his grandchildren to spend this precious time with him, and it’s obviously easier to take care of day in and day out logistics, if your dad lived in close proximity to you.

You already have the legal rights, so you do not have to go to court to ask permission to move your dad. However, a move takes money, and it seems this is the stumbling block. You seem to be managing the family business—is there a way to finance dad’s move by accessing equity in the business?

I suggest you explore what’s really at the heart of your brother’s resistance. Is it money? Will the estate be drained by the move? Is he concerned that dad’s health would be compromised in the move? Is it continuity of medical care your brother is prioritizing? Given the sister he is “concerned” about can just as easily see dad where he is currently living, resisting on those grounds alone is unreasonable.

As I suggested, I suspect your brother’s resistance is really about his own hurt, having been passed over as guardian. Perhaps this “senseless opposition” and his need to control you is a way for him avoid feeling the deeper wound of having been “passed over.” We seek to control as a means to avoid feeling pain. His pain doesn’t justify his actions, but understanding where he may be coming from may help you soften any conversations to come, and any resentment that may be brewing.

If you do reach the decision to move your father, then I suggest you consult with an attorney for counsel—it doesn’t mean you will land up in court, but you may gain some clarity around financing a move. I do not have the details around the family trust, so I can’t comment on that aspect.

You are the legal guardian, and as such, you have the legal right to re-locate your dad. In the end, it is most important we do the right thing, not the easiest.

I wish you the very best as you navigate this grief, and this family discord.

Love, Liz


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