Caring for adult siblings

Are you or have you ever been responsible for the care of an adult sibling, whether temporarily or long term? Do you anticipate ever being in this situation? Can you imagine situations where you would or wouldn’t take on such responsibility? Would it make a difference if it was your sib or your spouse/partner/SO’s sib?

We may be facing such a situation in the next few years and I’d like to hear others’ experiences to help me decide the best course of action. Nothing is imminent, and it may never happen, but I tend to “What if…” as an exercise in planning.

There are three potential scenarios, one being highly likely, the others less so.

  • individual with mental and emotional issues who never has/never will live independently.

  • individual with self-induced physical limitations due to years of ignoring sound medical advice.

  • individual whose lifestyle could lead to a state of dependency.

We’re both working for our last few years, flirting with total retirement by the end of 2018, followed by a life if leisure and travel. We’ve got a comfortable financial cushion, with a little room for unexpected emergencies. The sibs in question have no savings to speak of and no offspring to care for them, plus no real contingency plans.

Legally, we’re not responsible for any of them. One side of me says you take care of family, period. The other side says that lack of planning on their part doesn’t constitute an inconvenience/emergency on my part. I’m OK with helping navigate available services and other resources to get any and all settled in acceptable situations, but I’m much less OK with having any of them move in with us.

What to do? Where are the lines dividing caring sibling from heartless bitch from doormat/martyr?

My sister, and to a lesser extent me, were primary care givers for our terminally ill brother. He was in his late 20s. His cancer was not self-induced, if that matters.

My sister and her baby were living in my brother’s condo while he worked prior to his illness. He worked as an over the road trucker and the situation was mutually beneficial and she took care of the condo while he was away and she had a place to live as a result.

Initially care involved assisting in necessary remodeling to adapt the home to his needs. For most of the time household upkeep was all that was needed. But when he was recovering from chemo he needed personal care as well including bathing and toileting help. Most of the time he was able to take care of himself while home alone for several hours at a time.

Sounds like our situation is substantially different than yours. Still there are considerations in common for caregivers.

If the patient is unable to care for himself then the caregiver may be limited in the ability to leave the patient alone. This is a major burden for many caregivers.

The extent to which the condition is self-induced might play a role in whether I would be willing to take on such a role again. But more important to me would be whether the condition would tend to cause the patient to act out towards me in unpredictable ways. Caring for an ill drug addict might open up me and my family to petty theft in continuace of their drug habit, for example.

My aunt was basically the caregiver for my other aunt for the last 5 years or so of the unwell-aunt’s life. But it was a very unique situation…

The well aunt isn’t actually well, she has a heart condition that precludes her from working. So she is on disability. But the well aunt has a house while the unwell aunt was just renting. The unwell aunt moved in with the well aunt, as did the unwell aunt’s son (my cousin). They all lived together because there was room, and it made a ton of financial sense.

My well aunt didn’t have to do much in the way of caretaking of the unwell aunt - she cooked for everyone and cleaned the house to the best of her ability. I believe she also took my unwell aunt to the doctor when my cousin couldn’t.

In the last year or so of her life, a nurse would come to the house to do certain things for my unwell aunt. I don’t know what those things were. It’s possible the nurse only came because it was getting impossible for my aunt to physically get to the doctor.

Basically my well aunt gave my unwell aunt a place to stay while she was physically unable to work and unable to take care of her own place. In turn, my well aunt got some money towards the mortgage. They also kept each other company, as neither of them worked.

IMHO the best thing you can do, for now, is to help them plan. If there will be one or more siblings see if they can move in together. Help them get the federal and local welfare they are entitled to. Get them set up with local services like transport and visiting nurses. And then go live your life of leisure.

All 4 of my mom’s sisters have had severe medical problems for years before they died (the above two, one who has MS and one who died in her 60s from heart failure). My mom hasn’t had to take care of any of them. It’s not that she hasn’t been compassionate towards them, they just have all leaned on each other. And no one really has given my mom shit about it - it’s not like she avoids them, she just isn’t their caretaker.

Point them in the right direction then go live your life!

We took some financial responsibility for my late brother in law. We financed his divorce, made sure his house didn’t get foreclosed on. I see no reason it wouldn’t have continued - small amounts of money here and there, covering emergencies - he really had very little financial common sense, but he became terminally ill. While he was ill we bought a house for him - we charged him rent, but less than cost.

This is a huge thing my mother has been going thru for the past five/six years. One sibling (the oldest) who lives in another state ended up just having senile dementia. Not Alzheimers. My mom could give a seminar on the difference at this point. Another brother (bipolar but lovable) ended up homeless. Another younger sister died b/c of not taking care of herself.

Everyone in their fifties/sixties. She’s ended up being the executrix of the senile sister. (She had some money and it’s been hard but my mom found her a good place. Visits as much as she can.) Bipolar brother lives close and she takes care of him, gets him jobs and gives him jobs. The youngest sister died.

It’s a hard road. My uncle is still great. I miss my aunt. I never cared too much for the older sister.

Long story short—too late. Get an accountant/ lawyer involved. (My mom is a realtor. My dad is a CFP? I don’t know.)

I don’t know how I forgot this, but my mom cared for her mentally handicapped sister after their parents died. But her situation was much different from what I could be facing. My grandfather left a substantial amount of money for his youngest daughter’s care, so my mom didn’t face a financial burden. She also had my sisters living nearby to help out, and she was able to pay caregivers if necessary.

In reality, the only “burden” - if you can call it that - was that in her last years, my aunt was a very angry person. I think she might have been depressed, but her doctor didn’t believe in “happy pills” so she was never treated. She was very unhappy when she died…

I’ve said this before on these boards - if a sibling is estranged for some reason I don’t know why they get a pass to becoming your responsibility just because they are family. If you have had a close relationship with them, that is a different story.

My brother and I have not been close, and he has been dealing with mental illnesses for years - while he is able to take care of himself OK he is not fit to hold a job, so he lives from disability. When our father was dying, my brother could not be there to help me deal with things (even tho he was just across town). In the aftermath of dad’s death, my brother’s mental issues worsened to the point where the doctors and nurses started calling me about his care. I knew this would be a slippery slope and I did not in any way want this responsibility, so I stepped back and let him fall a few times to the social safety nets that are in place, that he had no issue accessing.

He’s stable now but I have to keep him at arm’s length. I know there could be a day where I get a call from someone that he either died or is hospitalized for some reason, but I cannot add him to my responsibilities. He has access to all the help he needs outside of a catastrophe; anything I can offer wont do him any good anyway.

When it goes from a relationship to a responsibility, that’s a big change - you need to understand your boundaries (and your spouse and immediate family’s boundaries), and what you are willing to change in your life to take on caring for a family member. Bottom line you don’t have to step-in to care for an adult sibling.

I’m not sure what I’d do; I barely take care of myself. Luckily, I’m the oldest and my brother and sister are in excellent physical and financial condition.

My sister and I have always been close. We are godparents for each other’s children. If needed, I would be glad to step in and help her out. I know she would do the same for me. My husband’s siblings are a mixed bag. One refused to attend our wedding because we had “lived in sin” prior to the marriage. 24 years later they’ve only seen each other twice, at family occasions. I don’t think they’re angry with each other (anymore) but they are definitely not part of each other’s lives. His sister is a successful attorney, so it’s unlikely she would need help. We would gladly help her though. His youngest brother has some undiagnosed mental problems. Possibly bi-polar, possibly schizophrenia. I think that’s where it gets tricky. He’s a wonderful person, but dealing with an adult with rage issues is not something that we are equipped to do. He really needs an appropriate setting and support. I don’t think our home could give him that.

As mentioned above, this one is hard. I think home care is difficult to impossible. I would start checking into what other support options might exist now.

This one is maddening. My dad falls into this camp. So does my MiL. “They make pills for diabetes, so why should I watch my diet?” Then my MiL had a massive heart attack while visiting us and ended up staying for 5 months. I think all you can do is be direct with these relatives about your concerns. In the end, though, we took care of my MiL and we’ll take care of my dad if it comes to it.

This one isn’t clear to me, so it’s hard to address. High level, be direct with the person about your concerns.

Ultimately, it’s what you can manage, and what seems fair or appropriate, individual by individual. I know my sister would move mountains for me. I’d do the same for her. Other family members fall into other camps, depending on their relationship with us, and their own behavior. It sounds like you have an idea of which of your relatives might be worth moving mountains for, and which should get a lecture and “tough love”.

The short answer is that family and love can be tangled up messes. Listen to your gut and do your best. You aren’t a heartless bitch if you don’t want to spend your golden years caring for those who didn’t plan ahead.

“Live for today, don’t worry about the future” attitude, so no plans or arrangements for retirement, just the intention to work until death. Which is all fine and dandy as long as health issues don’t prevent working that long.

We have offered our observations and they’ve been rebuffed. That’s pretty much all we could do. Short of preventing the cardboard-box-under-the-overpass, we’ll just step back… probably.

My great-aunt is childless by choice, and has always been a very selfish, vile, & stingy woman. She would avoid any family gathering where there would be children, and always expected people to cater to her whims and needs, using emotional manipulation & knowing that she could leverage her considerable estate to get people to do what she wants. [I’m not saying that children should be expected to care for their parents, but that seems to be the arrangement, more frequently than not]

Since her husband passed away over 20 years ago, she’s become a recluse. She is legally blind (to my knowledge) and spends the majority of her time ordering things from QVC and listening to the radio. Her house is akin to that of a hoarder, but I feel like part of it is due to the fact that she honestly can’t see the piles of things laying around. Very rarely does she allow anyone in the house, because she’s convinced that people have / will steal from her.

Her sister, my mother, and my uncle all shoulder some of the burden in making sure that she is okay, with the majority of the effort being made by her sister - who also takes care of her own ailing husband. They tried to put her into an assisted living program, partially by her own request, but within two weeks, she realized she wasn’t getting the family’s attention, and so she demanded to return to her house.

My uncle will do manual labor around her house when he finds time, and she’s made comments about how nice it is to reap the rewards of having a child without having to bother with any of the effort or time. She won’t answer the phone, but then complain that people don’t call to tell her about upcoming family gatherings.

It wasn’t until this past holiday season when she finally made comments that were enough to have my mother resign her to her fate. My mother had long been tired of the behavior, but it wasn’t until the great-aunt made comments about her sister - my mom’s mother - that my mother seemed to be willing to put the final nail in the metaphoric coffin. My mother could care less about whatever inheritance there could be (even though the conventional wisdom is that she’ll give it all away to some third party as a final “middle finger” to the family), but instead was going out of her way to care for my great-aunt out of respect for my grandmother, and because she thinks it is what my grandmother would’ve wanted.

I think that if she had ever been pleasant or contributed anything to the family, the entire extended family would be more willing to rally around to help her out, but it’s now such a thankless burden - to the point where you are greatly inconvenienced and then criticized when you help out - that I think any remaining goodwill / willingness is fading away.

You owe them nothing, IMO. My nephew and niece are legal guardians for their sister (since their mother died), who is mentally challenged since birth. She has had a job with the US government for many years at the exalted level of GS-2 and will have a small retirement and health care. But that is a different situation from yours, from what I can gather. My nephew and niece have complete control of her finances, power of attorney, etc. While their sister is self-sufficient on the surface of things, there is a shitload of work and attention that goes on behind the scenes. The real downside is that they are trapped by this responsibility. Moving to another city or state is not in the cards, so even after retirement, it’s likely they will be stuck right where they are.

On the other hand, I don’t know if I could just turn my back on a sib/sib-in-law in need, assuming the problem wasn’t due to criminal action. There’s the fine line between helping and enabling as I see it, and while it’s easy to define theoretically, one never knows what one might face some day.

Maybe we just need to tell them all “By the way, we’ve prepared for our retirement - you can do the same. Not our problem.” :cool: Easier said than done, methinks.


My parents bought their townhouse from a woman who her children said once had a “very considerable estate” - but money spends fast when you order from QVC…


With my brother in law, he and my husband were very close - so we would never have seen him suffer - i.e. live in less than acceptable housing or not be able to eat - even if he spent $800 on a guitar rather than saving for a rainy day. And his maintenance needs weren’t much. In the end, he died young (in his 40s) - so it was probably a fine thing he didn’t have a 401k.

But honestly, had he lived I would have really resented giving him money during my retirement years. I’d have done it because I love my husband, but I would have resented the hell out of it. There are a lot of things I don’t have because I’ve saved for a comfortable retirement that will include travel rather than buying an $800 guitar (although I have an $800 guitar now) and giving up travel days because he chose the grasshopper lifestyle would have torqued me good.

i.e. let your siblings fend for themselves as long as you and your husband are in agreement.

Why do you feel compelled to give warnings like this to siblings? Did your mom or dad take care of your aunts and uncles late in life? Have your siblings made overtures that they expect you to provide for them when they get old? I’m confused as to why you think they have this expectation.

My brother, sister and I all have varying degrees of financial security. But not one of us is counting on either of the others to step in and bail us out down the road. We are all accountable for own actions, just like our parents have.

If you’re doing all you can and you need help, I’m your guy, but if you’re not doing anything to help yourself I’m certainly not going to do it for you. You are on your own.

Thankfully, my brother has his life together. My wife has three siblings who are regular people and one who is a lost cause. We’re in agreement that LC is not getting any assistance from us. It’s depressing, but that’s how it’s going to have to be.

A large part of it is my husband - he’s a helper and a fixer. While those can be admirable traits, when you couple them with what I suspect is guilt because he did better than his sibs, there’s a potential problem. We’ve discussed it and I made my opinion clear, and I know it runs counter to his. There’s a whole lot more involved, including a not insignificant amount of enabling by my inlaws.

It may not be an issue, especially if my husband’s parents structure their will as he requested to take care of the others. But it’s not our call, even tho it could potentially become our problem. Then again, it might not. I still feel the need to work out possible scenarios in my head, and some of the comments in this thread have been helpful.

Thankfully, the majority of our siblings seem to be responsible adults.

“a fine thing”? I’d say it was the right thing. It was a gamble, but he played the right horse.

In my opinion, helping your sibling negotiate the various services available to them is a admirable thing. Taking financial responsibility for them and allowing them to degrade your quality of life and financial safety net is another thing entirely.

Seems like you should work on scenarios of conversations with your husband as opposed to scenario conversations with your siblings (in-law). You and your husband should agree on what you both will do, if anything, if these siblings become destitute.