Few experiences put more strain on a family than when aging parents come to require regular care. Such situations present a minefield of potential conflict. While some families have the skills needed to navigate the complex situations that come with this territory without the direction of a legal professional, many more do not. Conflict driven by the advancing needs of aging parents can leave deep scars on family relationships—if they do not ruin them altogether. By communicating your wishes through clear instructions, and granting authority to members of your family who can execute that plan, you will be able to avoid disputes during a highly stressful and emotionally charged time. The following examples of common family conflicts driven by the needs of aging parents illustrate just how messy things can get in the absence of thoughtful planning and clear communication.
Common Flash Point for Families with Aging Parents
1. Sentimental Items
When a parent dies, it is not always the items of most value that drive conflict, but those with the greatest sentimental importance. Designating items with emotional impact can eliminate a tug of war between family members.
2. Unequal Inheritances
In estate planning, fair does not always mean equal, and yet this can be hard to swallow for a person on the small end of an unequal inheritance. Parents may choose to leave children assets of differing financial value for various reasons, including children’s varying levels of security, different degrees of involvement in the family business, or distinct needs and goals. Through open communication, each family member can better understand the rationale behind unequal distribution, which, in turn, can eliminate future arguments.
3. Fear of Conflict
In the hopes to avoid conflict, it is not uncommon for a parent to tell different children what he or she believes each wants to hear. Often, this happens inadvertently, with the parent simply centering select details of their estate plan depending on who they are talking to. While this is done with the best intentions, the result is almost inevitably conflict and resentment—precisely the opposite of what was intended.
4. Unbalanced Division of Labor
In families with multiple children, it is not uncommon for one sibling to move far away while the other stays close to home. As the need to care for aging parents arises, the nearby child inevitably carries an undue share of the burden and, perhaps, concludes that they deserve an undue portion of the family’s wealth. Meanwhile, the distant child may be carrying ever-growing guilt that comes across as distrust when they try to intervene and do their part. Naturally, the corrosive cocktail of emotions that comes of this presents ample opportunity for conflict.
5. Disagreements Concerning Care
Another frequent flashpoint for families is determining what sort of care a parent may need and how best to provide it. While one sibling pushes for in-home help another may think an assisted living facility is a better option and another yet might push for mom or dad to move in with them. If the latter option is chosen and renovations need to be made to the child’s house to meet their parents’ needs, these expenses, themself, can become contentious, and once more, serious conflict can erupt.
An experienced estate planning attorney can help you identify potential flash points and suggest strategies that reinforce your wishes and reduce friction between family members. Although professional estate planning comes at a cost, it can save you money in the long run, as a long, drawn-out probate process is taxing both emotionally and financially. What is more, it is a small price to pay for enduring family unity.
To avoid a civil war in your family, create a comprehensive estate plan with a clear roadmap that directs your family towards your wishes. Call the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia at 770-822-2723 or contact us through our website to get started.
Contact Attorney James M. Miskell