Be Careful What You Ask For You Just Might Get It

A good friend of mine used to say that phrase all the time referring to people who believe they want something but fail to think through what it actually means to get it. Thus, when they get what they think they want they realize they don’t really want it!

So it sometimes goes with feuding siblings regarding the care, finances, and other responsibilities concerning their ailing parent. There is usually one sibling who has been appointed POA or health care surrogate or perhaps has simply been the primary caretaker for an ailing parent. That sibling is usually handling everything – dealing with finances, doctor appointments, caregiving – whether this is being done by the sibling him or herself or through the use of dad’s money to help set these things up. What then invariably happens is another sibling gets more involved and begins to question the decisions being made.

We mediate court battles like this where each sibling is seeking guardianship for the parent and this is true whether there is a POA, health care surrogate, or other legal documents in place. At the core are issues by the “outside” sibling(s) who have a lot of distrust and questions countered with resentment and distrust by the sibling who has been the involved one. There are never completely clean hands on either side but that being said, what we have seen is the situation where the “outside” sibling is so angry and therefore wants complete control, but fails to really think about the responsibilities of having control.

Even if there is money, it is complicated, time-consuming, and stressful to be the only one involved in the decision-making of the care, finances, planning, and life of an ailing parent. Especially where a plenary guardianship is sought, you are now talking about reporting to the court in the form of annual accountings in addition to making important medical decisions, and all decisions concerning this person’s life. It is a huge and meaningful responsibility. Every action is being monitored such that if there is even a hint of unreasonableness, court action could ensue.

Siblings often fail to think through what they really want when it comes down to their ailing parents. Fighting about it is easy, it ratchets up your emotions, you spend a lot of money taking a position but not often are you calm enough to really understand whether you want, for instance, the role of Guardian of the Person and being responsible to take dad to his medical appointments. Or are you going to hire a driver to do it or pay yourself gas money when that is exactly what you were against your sibling doing when she was taking dad to his appointments? In fact, you accused her of stealing dad’s money. The reality of the situation is different than numbers on a piece of paper or dad’s dwindling checking account when you are quick to accuse your sister or brother of taking unfair advantage. And after you are named Guardian is not the time to figure out you never wanted all this work to do or to realize it is going to cost you money. Then, it is too late.

Look, the majority of these kinds of cases usually do require attention where there are a couple of siblings, an ailing parent, and no plan of action. But what happens, in reality, is this kind of piece-meal putting out of fires until suddenly one sibling is flat out in the charge. That gets scary for the others who perhaps did not mean to let their sister do all the work and now want some answers to what appear to be urgent care questions. But there is a lot of resentment built up and other emotions that lead to anger and disengagement and finally court action. And that court action costs more money than you have and puts you in a fight mode that serves only the “fight” and not anyone’s best interest – not yours, not your brother or sister, and certainly not your parent who suffers watching his kids fight.

Don’t get caught asking for something you don’t really want. Early mediation is a good way for siblings to work through a lot of this emotion. It is not free. It is not one session and everything is great. It will cost some money but it is far cheaper than filing in court, it is less intrusive into your family and you will have the opportunity to really decide whether what you think you want is really what you want.