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Good Will
<p>Michael Fitzjames</p>

Michael Fitzjames

The New, Nasty Sibling Rivalry

Mum and Dad are getting old, needing care, but hey, the kids, they really need the money. Early Inheritance Syndrome is tearing families apart — and it’s about to get worse, with aged-care reforms putting the family home in the balance.

Nearly all people on the other side of middle-age know someone engaged in bitter battles with their siblings over the care of ageing parents, and their money.

Brothers and sisters who may have drifted apart or loathe each other, who have lived in separate homes, cities or countries for decades, find themselves in their 50s and 60s drawn into the old family dynamics whether they like it or not.

When Mum breaks her hip and goes into sudden decline, when Dad’s dementia can no longer be ignored, when the status quo is upset and the family must re-engage to make decisions, the scene is set for sibling rivalries to re-emerge.

It’s a scenario older than King Lear. The psychological underpinnings are eternal: jealousy, greed, guilt, and competition for parental love.

But forces in modern society are increasing the number and ferocity of sibling struggles, according to the growing band of “elder” lawyers and mediators who specialise in the area.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, it was a huge thing to dispute a will, and only the rich did it.”

“I work in ugly things day after day,” says Pam Suttor, a specialist in elder law who co-chairs the Law Council of Australia’s national elder law and succession law committee.

Parents are living longer. The 85-and-over age group is the fastest growing in Australia, and more have dementia. They are staying at home longer, dependent on family care for extended periods.

There are more children from those big, post-war families to wrangle over decisions: who is the primary carer, who has financial control, who is mismanaging Mum’s money, who isn’t pulling their weight ...

And a parent’s death doesn’t end the fighting; the value of the parental home has increased so dramatically over the decades that more siblings consider it worthwhile going to court over the estate, destroying whatever skerrick of good will may have survived.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, it was a huge thing to dispute a will, and only the rich did it,” says Rodney Lewis, a specialist lawyer and author of Elder Law in Australia. “With increasing wealth we’ve become more litigious and this is one of the areas it’s manifest.”

WITH MAJOR FEDERAL CHANGES in aged care funding to start next year, the scene is set for potentially more intra-family battles. More people will have to sell the family home — or otherwise find serious money — for nursing home bonds for high-level care. Previously this was the case for only low-level care centres.

With high-level care, it will be the sons and daughters called upon to decide on behalf of parents with dementia whether to sell the home, or to battle on caring for Mum or Dad themselves — and preserve the inheritance intact.

<p>The Global Mail</p>

The Global Mail

The dirty sibling wars over parental care, love and money have remained under the radar till recent times. But that has begun to change. It is only in the past five years, for example, that the Guardianship Tribunal of New South Wales, established 25 years ago, has begun to publish (a limited selection of) its decisions.

Originally established as a legal forum to protect the finances and wellbeing mainly of people with intellectual disabilities, it increasingly deals with the affairs of elderly people.

“I saw the best and worst of families, and there were horror stories,” says Diane Robinson, former president of the tribunal, who saw the increasing intensity and frequency of disputes over elders during her two decades at the tribunal.

Sibling fights are typically, but not exclusively, about money. “Some adult children see Mum’s money as their own even when she hasn’t died yet,” Robinson says. “Many times I’ve heard people say, ‘She doesn’t need money, it’s going to be mine shortly, anyway.’ I’ve said, ‘Why not send her flowers every week; she loves music, buy her a stereo.’ It’s very convenient for them to think elderly people have few needs.”

While parents are alive, but their capacity to make decisions is in dispute, control of their affairs, their money and who will make decisions for them are usually heard in state guardianship or administration tribunals if the family can’t settle the matter itself. When parents are dead, and the dispute is over a will, the matter is heard in the Supreme Court.

Trouble commonly erupts when a parent sells her home and moves in with the adult child who offers to care for her until death. The parent transfers a large sum of money to the carer. It may disappear into elaborate home renovations, or into the adult child’s business ventures in a case of what Robinson calls “early inheritance syndrome”.

Take the case of the daughter who accused her older sister, the father’s favourite and primary carer, of using the proceeds of the sale of their father’s house to buy a newsagency. There were suspicions of financial abuse and lack of proper care, but the father was deemed sufficiently competent to make his own decisions. Elder law specialist Peter Gauld recalls that the younger sister was powerless to stop the inheritance being siphoned off into her sibling’s business.

“Many times I’ve heard people say, ‘She doesn’t need money, it’s going to be mine shortly, anyway.’”

“The relationship between the siblings couldn’t have been worse,” Gauld says. “The younger sister intended to dob her sister into the Tax Office and Centrelink.”

Under the law, money transferred to a child by a parent is presumed to be a gift unless there is strong evidence, or documents, pointing to the contrary. And if the carer reneges on the bargain of lifetime care, evicts the parent or consigns her to the most basic nursing home on the grounds her needs are simple, there may be little the other siblings can do.

The world of carers is replete with hard-working, long-suffering and loving siblings co-operating, muddling through, going to herculean effort to look after their frail and dependent parents.

But at the same time there has been rising concern over elder abuse, particularly financial abuse, which has prompted some official inquiries and initiatives that have shed light on the shadowy world of family care.

A 2011 study by Monash University, commissioned by State Trustees Victoria, cited a consensus among professionals that one quarter of families failed to take care of their older members “within an environment of mutual love and trust”.

The mean age of victims of financial mismanagement was 80, women were more likely than men to be abused, and the perpetrator was “most likely to be a son or daughter’’.

The study, For Love Or Money (intergenerational management of older Victorians’ assets), said older people believed “when you have a family you do not need documents’’. But “impatient children” had an overwhelming sense of entitlement to their parents’ assets at a time when those assets were increasingly needed to fund long-term elder care.

WHEN MIDDLE-AGED SIBLINGS are forced to “re-enter the house of childhood”, as author Francine Russo has put it, the worst implosions are captured in the decisions of the guardianship tribunals.

Take the case of Victor (names changed for legal reasons), an 84-year-old with mild dementia and little English; father of five adult children, and husband to Loretta, who also suffers dementia. The family had hung together until crisis struck. But when Victor was rushed to hospital after a fall, the unravelling began.

<p>Michael Fitzjames</p>

Michael Fitzjames

Loretta’s condition suddenly deteriorated and she was put into respite nursing care which became a permanent placement. It was over Victor that the fight between the siblings raged. After he was discharged from hospital, the siblings disagreed on whether he should join Loretta or live at home.

At the nub of the dispute was “how best to honour their parents’ wishes to be together balanced with their parents’ health care needs”, according to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Two siblings, one with an enduring power of attorney to manage the father’s affairs, were adamant he should be with his wife, “as they had always been together’’, and he was too confused and ill to be cared for at home.

Three siblings challenged their brother’s power of attorney. They argued they had already set in place a 24-hour, seven-day a week roster for caring for their father, augmented with home care services. He’d looked after his wife for three years since the onset of her dementia, and he’d had enough, they said. He didn’t want to join Loretta in the nursing home.

A hearing room filled with the warring siblings, some of their spouses, their father and his interpreter, saw family life at its worst. One sibling claimed she had been verbally threatened by her siblings when she had visited her father. They weren’t looking after him properly and he had been put on anti-depressants, she said. Another sibling said he was being denied access to his father.

In this case, the decision was not so difficult for the tribunal. Though it was agreed Victor had dementia it was not so advanced as to rule out his having a say in his own life. Given the opportunity, he told the tribunal he wanted to stay at home. But the tribunal felt it necessary to appoint an independent guardian for a limited time to sort out the issue of the estranged siblings’ access to their father.

In most cases the sibling who becomes a live-in carer makes a huge sacrifice. But cases of the free-loader carer are not unheard of, according to elder lawyer Brian Herd.

<p>The Global Mail</p>

The Global Mail

Typically they are the no-hoper sibling who never left the parental home, or had to move back in. They enjoy free board and exercise tyrannical control over an intimidated parent, shutting out their brothers and sisters.

Alan (names changed for legal reasons), a father of two adult children, had lived with his 89-year-old mother in her house for 12 years. He had enduring power of attorney to manage her affairs. His sister, Sandra, challenged this authority, claiming their mother “would never have given Alan control over anything’’. She said he refused to pay rent or leave the house even after the mother was moved into a low-care nursing home and funds were needed to pay the $150,000 accommodation bond.

“He considers the house belongs to him,” Sandra said.

The guardianship tribunal found Alan was “unable to distinguish between his own interests and that of his mother’’. But it also found that in relation to the need to sell the house, Sandra was primarily motivated by “hostility towards her brother’’. It appointed an independent financial manager.

As more octogenarians and nonagenarians skip a generation in their bequests, considering their grandchildren more needy or worthy, Supreme Court battles are increasingly fought between baby boomers and their children or nieces and nephews.

In the case of Kastrounis v Foundouradakis, 88-year-old grandmother Erini had transferred her house before death to her three favourite granddaughters in their 40s. They reaped $180,000 each while Erini’s three children in their 60s were left $10,000 each in the will. “I want to look after the people who have looked after me,” Erini reportedly had told her lawyer. But two of Erini’s children challenged in the Supreme Court of NSW and in the end the granddaughters had to hand over $65,000 and $35,000 respectively to their uncle and aunt.

THE JAUNDICED EYE OF the elder law specialist sees sibling skirmishes everywhere because the brothers and sisters who co-operate magnificently or do their best through the challenge of elder care never need grace the specialist’s doorstep.

Even so, for most baby boomers with frail and dependent parents, this is a new life-stage that requires them to make “a developmental leap”, says Francine Russo, author of They’re Your Parents Too! (How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy).

“How we navigate this passage with our siblings determines, in large part, whether we remain a connected family after our parents die, and what our connection will be like,” she says.

Lawyer Brian Herd believes many of problems could be avoided if parents and siblings drew up a legal contract known as a Family Agreement. Such agreements would bring greater transparency to what he calls “the wild west of family care’’, making explicit the under-the-table arrangements over parent-to-child loans, for example, or unspoken expectations about care.

The agreement might spell out that the child who moves in with Mum to be her full-time carer could be paid a wage from Mum’s funds at the local community home care rates. “This potentially reduces disputes over wills by compensating the carer in the parent’s lifetime,” Herd says.

If only parents when capable of doing so made more decisions about their future needs, siblings might have an easier time. Parents don’t want to be a burden, says Herd, but they don’t plan for aged care, either. “People think they’ll be abseiling in old age.”

As Russo points out, siblings should clean up their relationships before parents have a problem. In the midst of a crisis everything is worse. But few siblings, it seems, ever take this suggestion.

Discussing how her generation is meeting the challenge of getting older, Adele Horin’s blog ‘Coming of Age’ begins today at

43 comments on this story
by A Cowie

Been reading you for years in the SMH, Adelte Horin. It's great that you're writing here. More please.

March 4, 2013 @ 6:55am
by jenny

Excellent and chilling story

March 4, 2013 @ 9:06am
by G O'Leary

I was very pleased to see Adele Horin's article. You have been missed in the SMH.
I look forward to more of your great articles in the Global mail. Thankyou

March 4, 2013 @ 9:18am
by Lesley Cowie (no relation to A Cowie)

Thank you for this timely piece on a social phenomenon that is a growing problem. Attitudes of entitlement have always been part of human nature, but appear to me to be far more wide spread today. My husband and I (80s and 70s respectively) are keen to ensure our adult children have the benefit of our assets when we die, including our family home, but we are realistic enough to appreciate that institutional care may be part of the picture and necessitate the sale of some assets. Although I anticipate no problems between our adult children in this regard, I will pass on this piece to them to ponder.

March 4, 2013 @ 9:27am
by Vicki Coppell

I and my brother (who does not live in Austraia) are in a similar position to those described in the article except that our mother died last year. Our sister who lives interstate has visited Mum once in 25 years and only did that when I told her Mum had only a few weeks to live. Turned out to be a false alarm but that had been the information I had been given. When I told her last year that Mum was in palliative care she did not come and Mum died. She did not phone to see how Mum was coping neither did she come to the funeral or send any flowers or message. She did text me to say she would not be coming for Mum's funeral.
For most of her adult life my sister has caused Mum emotional distress and, as a result, Mum has left her a minor share of her estate with the bulk being evenly divided between my brother ( who has flown from his home in northern Europe every couple of years to see Mum). Mum's reasons for doing this are set out in her will but my sister is contesting this and is in all likelihood going to win a much larger portion of Mum's estate than Mum wanted her to. If this matter goes to court most of Mum's small estae will be eaten up in legal costs. Is this a fair and just result?

March 4, 2013 @ 10:07am
by chris (larksong4)

Many of us are taking more and more responsibility for our aging parents, as they make it clear that they do not want to go into a nursing home or supported care. In addition we are also, at the same time, taking care of our grandchildren because our children have to work and there is a paucity of affordable childcare. I can't help but think that this adds to the feeling of frustration that many of us have that there will never be a time when we can be free to live our own lives. It is not a big leap to assume that this frustration can be the catalyst for wanting some reward for the effort in the here and now.

March 4, 2013 @ 10:21am
by Dayle Smith

Your article is over 2 decades too late for us but our family had exactly the kind of issue that you directly raise here. One sister had the capacity to raid our mothers accumulated bank savings from over 50 years, and even succeeded in getting our mother to pay for the cost of building a separate residence on that sisters land so she could 'look after mum...'. Naturally soon after mum was shuffled to 'her' new residence, her pets were no longer wanted, her capacity for her own TV was taken away, and she was quite quickly driven into what was billed as an aged care facility, where the same sister succeeded in depriving out mother any access to her own money, and, with the aged pension and some other funds that came to our mother, did not even bother to pay the aged care facility where she had installed mum their fees, but had converted them to her own use. When the estate came to be distributed no trace could be found of any of the 15 years of bank documents that the sister had retained, and no records could be recovered by the lawyers acting for the estate. To make a bad situation even worse, a few of the siblings had borrowed money from a woman who lacked any legal capacity to lend (she had either Dementia or Alzheimer's disease) and refused to admit how much had been borrowed of what had been paid back, leaving the executors with the usual dilemma: did they use their own funds to try and recover the money misappropriated from the estate (and if, they failed, they would be liable for adverse costs orders since the majority of the siblings were against any attempt to recover the money, or obtain a declaration that the misappropriating sibling held the land, or part of it, in trust for the family, probably worth around $250,000). So the greedy sister succeeded in keeping her hands on probably 70% of the estate when she had an entitlement to one 7th only. Very sad, and it destroyed any kind of relationship between the majority of the remaining siblings.

March 4, 2013 @ 10:31am
by Justine

Thanks for this most interesting article. It's frightening that people can put their own greed ahead of the needs and care of their elderly relatives. Our priorities are often distorted and flawed.

March 4, 2013 @ 10:44am
by Betty B

Scarey stuff for an 87-year old to read. I think I will send a copy of this to my two 'kids' (both now in their fifties).

March 4, 2013 @ 11:00am
by Lesley

I have to admit I haven't had the courage to do this myself (a business, one sibling with a job for life in the business ... will this open a Pandora's box?), but one suggestion I've heard - and this touches on Famiily Agreements - is to sit down with mum/dad and siblings WITH an independent third party present: an accountant, a lawyer, perhaps even a hired mediator. Everyone should be allowed to put their perspective of what might be "fair". No doubt each person will have a different view. But at least the parent now appreciates all those perspectives and can make their decisions accordingly, rather than proceeding on the basis of misapprehensions or under undue influence from only one or two of their children. There will be no 'surprises', everyone having been involved ... and comfort can come from feeling that you've been 'heard', no matter the outcome.
What I'd like my mother to bequeath is not the house, or her investments, or a $ figure, but a family that's still talking ... without some openness now, I fear this might not be the case!

March 4, 2013 @ 11:03am
by Sonia Wood

Excellent article - every family should have in place a clear plan for emergency, short and long term.

March 4, 2013 @ 11:16am
by I. Miklosvary

As a long term stepmother to two siblings who have a fractious relationship my husband and I have just completed a comprehensive drafting of all our wishes and instructions on all aspects of our expectations of aged care. We did this to salvage what we could of their relationship after either or both of us is unable to care for ourselves. Thanks to Adele Horin for a terrific article. I am loving my Global Mail.

March 4, 2013 @ 11:43am
by Victor

Congratulations to Adele Horin for this story. As someone directly affected and with many siblings the most obvious problem is the apparent lack of available advice from government agencies to help people. If it does exist it should be both centralised and publicised. A simple booklet widely available would be sufficient to outline general legal principles of wills, duties of those holding enduring powers of attorney, legal competency and issues with aged care facilities, bonds, etc. Bringing private lawyers into such mix should not be necessary but a cost effective tribunal with wider powers is clearly required. Unfortunately the legal profession is beyond the means of average people and really the province of companies which can claim a tax deduction. And one wonders when one sibling has borrowed from an ailing parent whose competency is questionable whether in fact the onus of proof should be reversed.

March 4, 2013 @ 12:04pm
by Carol

Good article but there is an elephant in the room. Let's call it voluntary euthanasia and let's wonder if and when the increasing numbers of our boomer generation decide that we really do have a choice to die, if and when we decide we volunteer for it. No nursing homes or dementia for me and many of my aging acquaintances.

March 4, 2013 @ 1:25pm
by Julian

A really interesting story. These disputes will continue on through the ages without doubt. Lesley's is a great comment about the best bequest a parent can leave.

One sentence in this article caught my eye. "Elder law specialist Peter Gauld recalls that the younger sister was powerless to stop the inheritance being siphoned off into her sibling’s business". It emphasises a problem which the article highlights - it is not an inheritance, until the parent dies. If that is how the parent wants to 'siphon' their money when they're alive, and they do so free from unconscionable influence, then I am afraid it is not the younger sister's prerogative to stop the parent from doing so.

March 4, 2013 @ 2:57pm
by Betty B

Betty B.

Yes, I agree with some of the commentators that the thing we most want to leave behind us is a
still connected family. I am alone now, but I know this would be the memorial my husband would most want; he lost his birth family in World War 2 and subsequent migration to Australia; I would hate to think of his children dividing over the fairly kodest results of his years of hard work and love...

March 4, 2013 @ 3:00pm
by Betty B

I meant to write: I agree so strongly with Victor. The Federal government should be forward-thinking in preparing for a problem that is going to grow, as more and more of us live to older and older ages, and leave more and more assets behind.

March 4, 2013 @ 3:02pm
by Peter Sommerville

Another excellent story Adele.

March 4, 2013 @ 4:11pm
by Helen Neville

Due to health issues, I decided for my peace of mind to try and get my affairs in order thus hopefully bypassing much of what Adele has written about. I don't have greedy children but one is not in a good financial position, and I could foresee that lines could be crossed unless I have a good plan. To this end I have an Advanced Health Directive with my two daughters being Powers of Attorney in health matters, and the Public Trustee being the Power of Attorney in Financial matters. The Public Trustee is also my Executor. It was a big step to use the Government body and hand over my affairs like this, but I truly believe I have done the right thing. I am also saving my children from themselves just in case, with all the good intentions, they may deviate when my circumstances drastically change and they become impatient to move on, perhaps before I am even dead.
I am so grateful to the Global Mail for their wonderful articles, especially this one from Adele.

March 4, 2013 @ 7:32pm
by Bob Ayrsman

Great article on brothers and sisters who are "greedy and gain control " of their parents assets. The same thing is going on here in the United States and is an "epidemic". The attorneys are a big part of the problem and when you combine an attorney with an elderly person who has a greedy offspring this is not a fair match mother never had a chance....! My brother got it all 98% house, stock account, furniture, family photos, car ....and never spoke to me again.....he died 14 months later.

March 5, 2013 @ 11:12am
by Sandy Parkinson

When my mother died, tales came over to me from England of how my siblings over there argued over everything she left. My younger sister managed to grab my Mum's wedding ring to send to me as the eldest child of the family.
I was so relieved to have been out of this skirmish, that when I became too inform to manage alone, I moved into an age care facility CHOSEN BY ME. Though I had little in the form of assets, etc., I cheerfully advised my kids that I was spending their "inheritance". This was accepted in good spirit by them, as was the fact that I did a little to help them on occasion, for instance I waived a debt for one, paid an overdue bill for another, etc. Result? Everything OK in this family. It only needs some forethought and a little cooperation. And a good sense of humour all round.

March 5, 2013 @ 1:53pm
by Tom Fields

Legislation has been proposed in the U.S. to address problems like this. More specifically, the legislation proposed in the U.S. would prevent abuse that that reported by ABC News at and recorded by its embedded video. E-mail to request information about this legislation.

March 6, 2013 @ 1:07am
by Jennifer Keaton

The demands of aging entail the emotional, physical, fiscal, and medical...of the entire family. Elder Mediation is one means that some families are tackling these enormous issues with an eye to preserving the dignity and safety of the aging individual and to "doing no harm" to the relationships that may continue after the aging individual's death (such as siblings). in America and other ADR firms facilitate these kinds of family meetings.

March 9, 2013 @ 5:53am
by Rhondda Davis

How familiar this sounds. My siblings cannot and will not communicate. "She said" is common in a conversation about an absent sister, followed by amazement at the perceived self interest/unwillingness to share the task/incompetence/madness? of the others.
Our mother secretly advanced money inequitably, hid her expenditure, refused to consider rationalising her accumulated material possessions. She died peacefully and without the trauma we wanted to prevent, but she had lived too long. Some siblings have management experience, but they are not the executors. The siblings will lose each other. The sobering effect is that the mother has disappeared from the equation.

March 9, 2013 @ 8:30am
by Janet L Ward, B. Social Work, Monsah University

Now age 74, I trained as a Social Worker when my last child started school. My work was mainly done with the elderly. I saw some horror stories and also some wonderful stories, benefiting by learnig much more from my clients than whatever I was able to offer by way of support services for them. Often I met women who had built a Granny Flat when father died. This worked well until the husband took early retirement. Suddenly the carer was faced with the dilemma of whose needs were more important - her husband's or her aging mother's. Please do not say old people were never neglected in the "old days" because at that time their life expectancy was considerable less than it is now. Australia is NOT A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY and more monies should be spent on aged care support within the home, which is where most people prefer to live (and die). The costs of a cleaner, a person to do the shopping and a visiting nurse to administer medication is miniscule compared to the cost of institutional care. Also, our attitudes towards voluntary euthanasia must be altered so that, while in full competence, persons can designate whether or not to have a meaningless life prolonged because the technology is there to do so, eg. following a major stroke.

March 16, 2013 @ 7:10pm
by Kevin Cobley

My mother who is now 88 has had dementia for a number of years as I live 120klms away and work 5 days a week and suffer from diabetes was unable to visit more often than 3 monthly.
On a visit I discovered only 4 bottles of half empty wine in my mother fridge and my mother in a confused state. I told my sister she had dementia and she needed to see a doctor with some skills in aged care and a nursing home found, my sister just argued.
Two weeks later my sister rang me up and said Mum has made a new will and left everything to her and she had the power of attorney and if I ever visited Mum again she would call the police.
I made a complaint in regard to the solicitor, it went nowhere. Solicitors seem to largely have an arrogant belief that they can determine a persons state of mind in a visit of just a couple of minutes, they think they are doctors. The persons that judge solicitors behaviour are no better.
My mother was placed in a nursing home after a person took her to the hospital (she was fond in the street in a confused state) and the doctor examined her and she was diagnosed from dementia.
I then approached the guardianship tribunal (NEVER EVER GO THERE WITHOUT YOUR LEGAL REPRESENTIVE AND COME PREPARED WITH FULL BRIEFS) ,they told me it was friendly meeting to resolve disputes it was anything but that.
I was satisfied with the nursing home in which she was placed and the only thing I wanted was the return of my property from my mother home and full access to my mother's financial/medical records so that I could determine what had happened to her assets, this Tribunal paid zero attention to my rights and I am nearing 60 and cannot face any more arguments with my sister, it's been nearly 60 years of continuous argument. I'm finished with tribunals and courts will deal with the issues at hand myself.

March 19, 2013 @ 1:28pm
by Siobhan Austen

A great article Adele! I am looking forward to being able to read more of your work in The Global Mail

March 26, 2013 @ 11:32pm
by Bec

My story - in the family - brother, sister, myself. Me married with 4 kids under 6. siblings unmarried without children.
My parents both diagnosed with in curable cancer within 3 months of each other. I immediately take leave without pay to care for them, husband cuts back on work to care for our kids. Brother loses emotional plot over parents dying, so no help. Sister decides to move interstate with English boyfriend " to try out other areas of Australia". "Really, now you want to move when m&d have only months to live" is what I say. She says, "I'll fly back when I can".
Sister never returns again, even though I beg her to come back as parents so distressed she ignoring them. Find out from mutual friends that she had in fact returned a few times and stayed with friends to go to weddings etc, never contacting parents once.
I get on with nursing both parents, very annoyed but trying to put it down to she "can't handle the reality of dying parents".
Father dies, 2 months later mother dies. This is 18 months from first diagnosis to mum passing.
Very devastating.
I return the day of mums death to m&d's house to retrieve particulars I had there for kids like prams etc knowing I would put it off forever if I didn't do it straight away. I nursed both in their home till they needed more medical intervention about a week before both dying.
In driveway was moving van from interstate. Sister and Brit boyfriend had both quit jobs that same week and packed up (had to be before mum died but prepared to leave as soon as they hear about mum) and moved into m&d's house. Which is 6 bedroom, tennis court and pool in affluent suburb. They Put caviet on house and declare they are unemployed so need to be living there. I'm too devastated about parents to care about her sociopathic behaviour.
Months later, after my husband declared 18months without me working and him cutting back to care for kids we were in dire financial position. He gently pushes me to move onto will.
Find out from estate lawyer (who is a shark and actually antagonises situation between us knowing as long as there is an estate he is being paid, so as long as we fight there will still be an estate) that she doesn't have right to be there without paying rent, which if we rented out house would be $2,500.00/week. She now been there over year and says has no plans to leave. If we sold, house would fetch $4,000,000.00.
Can't afford lawyers. We may have to sell own house to pay for financial debt accumulated over 18months. Did I mention I have 4 children under 6. She is aware of this but actually said to me "you chose to care for them, I can't take the blame for your stupid decisions".

May 2, 2013 @ 11:42am
by Daughter of Mother with Alzheimers

This is exactly what I am living in now. I'm American and the situation here is no different... Maybe tribunals (as you call them) are the answer but the pain of being the sibling fighting for my parents to live in dignity is incredible.

May 4, 2013 @ 3:40am
by Stewart O'Brien

My wife was a Coordinator for a Church based Community Visitors Scheme in Perth. Around 80 volunteers in her team visited elderly nursing home patients, to provide emotional and miscellaneous support. The stories collected by the volunteers, related to the family's treatment of many of these infirm individuals, would turn your head around. EVerything from embezzlement, to physical threats, to emotional blackmail, to carbon copies of Bec's situation. The latter being a deviously and underhand well planned stealth attack on the assets. My Dad recently died in the family home in Queensland. The will was very fair, and was followed to the letter, though it was straightforward. The smell of money does interesting things to opportunists, who unfortunately happen to be siblings, and exacerbated by the all to common narcissist personalities I see commonly now in my daily dealings with colleagues. Very sad for you Bec. I am sorry. For what it's worth, some legal firms I understand will take on "no win/ no fee" cases. I sounds to me like it's worth the pain. People never cease to amaze me, and I've been around a while.

May 5, 2013 @ 9:13am
by okwithin

As I look back at my experience as the primary care giver for my mother, I am grateful that I did the best that I could do, that I had no issues with my mom, and that I was able to prepare for her dying. It is unfortunate that my siblings chose to band together like wolves against me, but if I could do it over, I would have voiced my//the truth, and then walked away—never engaging with any of them, again. The greed and betrayal that I witnessed from my siblings is not my karma.

May 13, 2013 @ 9:02am
by Jane

My family will never be the same. Unfortunately, two siblings (myself and my older brother) wanted my mom home after she feel down the basement stairs three years ago. My other brother who is married to a very jealous, greedy wife wanted my mom in a nursing home immediately and started staking claim to my moms few possessions why she was lying in her hospital bed. It's three years later. They come to see my mom for 30 minutes with a cheese Danish twice a year, but want to be the decision makers when it comes to mom. I fly up weekly from Florida. My older brother lives in the house with my mom. We have 24/7 care for her, but they want to make the decisions about her care. By the way, moms upstairs dying. Brother is away on a fishing trip with buddies, sister in law on vacation with girlfriend. To them my mom is no longer a person. She's an old lady with dementia and they don't want the hassle of dealing with her. I wouldn't have traded with past three years with my mom for a million bucks. Was it a difficult time.....absolutely. Was it worth it.....100 percent yes!!!! I always tell my teenage son "everything worthwhile is difficult." Yes it has been difficult, but priceless at the same time.

June 4, 2013 @ 2:25pm
by dion miraglis

To mom is no longer a person but just an old lady with dementia and they don't want the hassle if dealing with her.

June 23, 2013 @ 3:38pm
by John Norvet

I read a great book that came out on the subject. It's really personal, but funny, too. I wish I had read it before my dad got dementia and all hell broke loose. It's called "Trust Me-every baby boomer's nightmare" Here's the link:

June 28, 2013 @ 4:48am
by Jacqui

Bec, that is U.N.B.E.L.I.E.V.A.B.L.E. First of all, very sorry about your parents' passings. They would no doubt be so proud with how you and your husband and kids helped and loved them. Secondly, good luck with working out the situation re your sister... hoping things will improve for you. Very thought provoking article... I am wondering, can some of this selfish, spoilt behaviour be traced to childhood, or does this sometimes come out of nowhere?!!

July 22, 2013 @ 12:55am
by Alice Lazar

My sister is executor of our will, and always promised that she would be fair. Quite the contrary--over the past few years while my mother was in a retirement home she found a way to transfer all of our family money into her own accounts. I didn't find this out until three months after my mother passed away, and found out that the trust was illiquid! I'm so furious with her that even if I think about her my blood pressure goes up! All this time she told me that she was going to be fair. I bought the book "Trust Me: Every Baby Boomer's Nightmare" last week. I could not believe how similar my story was to those in the book. It gave me the courage to go to a trust attorney and demand from her what is mine. I recommend reading this BOOK before your parents die. It is really informative, but also very funny. Good luck out there to all of you Baby Boomers. Don't let your siblings steal your inheritance like mine did!

July 28, 2013 @ 3:15am
by Gail Morgan

Simone de Beauvoir in her groundbreaking book 'Old Age' reviews the evidence. Greedy and clamouring relatives will only be held at bay if you resist the urge to be generous/ and or bullied by protestations of love and concern. Old people, she concluded, need to hold onto their primary assets or reap the whirlwind. Betty Friedan in the 'Fountain of Age' sees communal living and elder empowerment as a viable alternative. The Harvard study on ageing says that successful ageing is both generative and generous, which presumably would apply to the elders themselves not denying themselves in order to secure the 'inheritance' As we age the temptation not to face reality is understandable, but it is moral cowardice. Family favouritism is a form of colonial 'divide and conquer' power wielding and it's results will be decades of inter nacine warfare. Elders need to take both proactive and difficult decisions that are arms length and fair. This is difficult and will require distancing themselves from happy family fantasies. Children need to lower their expectations around other people's assets and face their own fear of ageing

August 31, 2013 @ 11:00am
by SS Weiss

My sister who is awful with $ and drinks alcoholically mixed with Benzos daily, somehow convinced my parents, using the reason that I, older sister used to use drugs (ive been clean and sober for years now but she's managed to convince them anyway) that any money willed to me be in a trust fund controlled by her as sole trustee, but her "half" will just be given to her outright.. My father mentioned this and I swear I laughed so hard cuz I truly thought he was kidding! Well he wasn't. She's also pushed them into making her executor and giving her POA. "Sometimes people relapse on drugs" was the entire reason given (I wouldn't drink or drug for anything and I haven't in many years, that is obvious to everyone.) so the real reason is she bullied them. They are still alive - what can I do? Help, please! My objectives are to protect my parents , to convince them to remove her as trustee over my portion, and be given my share outright too, and to get someone who has some financial sophistication as executor (I am not even trying to nominate myself.). Her goals are clearly to take all their and my $ (she's been draining them for years so I shouldn't be surprised), control me, be bossy, etc. my goal is that my parents live on their own $ til they die, then it is treated responsibly and fairly and evenly. If for no other reason than to not turn 2 sisters into 2 enemies. We are the last offspring - no kids for either of us. The way it's set up now I'm physically ill, hurt, scared and our family will end if something isn't done soon. What can be done? Help me please. And help her too because she will lose the best sister anyone ever had if this persists.....please help???

December 5, 2013 @ 6:57pm
by Char Weeks

And so becomes the Guardianship Board as the new taxpayer funded battleground for feuding relatives. No full and detailed investigation. Just one side pitted against the other.
No need to talk through your issues about your loved ones when you can just make an application for guardianship. Who talks these days anyway, when you can text. YoLo. So easy. Archived in the annals of family pathology fester all the hurts, myths, grief and retribution and perhaps the odd fact that become the accumulated symptoms that present as the applicant’s story at the first stop, mediation . It’s an ambitious endeavour to soothe the wounds of a life time in 90 or so minutes. No wonder mediation sometimes fails.
Never mind the stress to the loved one whose freedom to self determine is about to fall into the hands of some darling relative about whom they may harbour more than a teacup full of reservations. Never mind that loved one might be lying awake at night silently wishing for all this conflict to go away. Maybe they just want to live their life their way, even if they can’t exactly remember what that is.
Imagine your loved one’s stress at the hearing. Awestruck by board members beaming positional power, seated between the warring factions, it’s hardly surprising when when asked, “What would you like, Mr/Ms XXX”, they become mute with fear of saying the wrong thing. Or worse, they don’t say what they really think for fear of offending one or more of the progeny that they genuinely love equally. Yet, the hearing is intended to focus on achieving the best outcome for the loved one.
If Guardianship Boards exist to serve the best interests of the loved one whose guardianship is at issue, there first responsibility is to establish the legitimacy of the application. Applications for guardianship should never be accepted as a cop out for communication.

December 29, 2013 @ 5:52pm
by Metro

Brilliant article and just what I was looking for. I found myself ticking all the boxes.

December 30, 2013 @ 6:52am
Show previous 40 comments
by Mitzy

I think it is weird that a "still a child" who in effect has been living off the parents for years, mortgage free, worry free, and child free, goes to such lengths to feel they he/she should be rewarded! I mean they have already had "the best of the parents" never having grown up and even left the family home, yet it is frequently THEY who get the spoils, and do little to ACTUALLY do any payback to the parents but show up at dinner time, and act all self important.

When parents get sick, really sick and other more "mature" siblings step up to help, watch "it is all mine now" child who never grew up road block that. He/she NEEDS to keep the monopoly going. Parents feel guilty that their child never grew up and who wait for "so now he will care for us", have a long wait. Still they harbor the hope, and so they give up all power and control to this "not an adult" sibling...who, naturally, fails to deliver much but his same sense of entitlement and now LORDS over the entire proceedings.

It is NOT rare at all, and they have "by close proximity" so much sway of the parents decisions, good luck actually helping your "blinded by misplaced love" infected parents if you have a sibling like this, honestly they do and CAN get away with murder, and oh yes, kiss the family farm goodbye. Unreal

January 6, 2014 @ 1:57am
by Jennifer

Thousands of Dollars later and wondering if Family mediation has achieved anything we did realize that at least the issues were exposed and on the table.
What is truly sad is within the moments of Dementia there is a voice that should be heard and a good team that listens can hear that voice.
The troubling thing is that when that voice, which has been spoken of above, is faced with the moment of having to speak up things can be difficult. That dear person is so bullied and traumatized the dementia/anxiety becomes more pronounced and the bully thinks he gains more power at that moment to prove the voice is incapable.
As said above the intimidation of the moments in court/mediation etc are not a kind and caring place for the questions and answers. And yes we all might constantly say the parents should have done this or that in life preparation and siblings should have made a pact. But what if and I am sure this is the case with many, one sibling continues to believe everything must be seen through his eyes? No planning, no wills, no EPOA's, no Health care directives can stop these people who believe it is their way or no way. They continue to challenge the system until they get their way.
No end of talking or communication can prepare anyone for the final moments of helping to manage parents lives. Talking and communication is fine if you have siblings who are respectful. But tell me how many families are composed of good communicators? How many families are free of at least one sibling who has some sort of issues?
I have no answers, we just know the pain.
Thank you for the article and the conversation.

January 9, 2014 @ 9:17am
by Steve

It can be very traumatic for a son to take care of his mother in the latter stages of dementia. This can be made much worse when there is no help from siblings. In other cultures (non-western) the carer has control of the finances during the life and after the parent has died but in western culture after death it all depends on the terms of the will, which was invariably written years before the dementia became an issue. So therefore a sister or brother whom has contributed very little, or actually nothing, towards the care of an elderly parent can claim what was originally written in the will which invariably was written many years before care of a parent with dementia became an issue. This scenario is going to become more frequent in the west and perhaps we need to look to the east, with more traditional values to cover the care for the elderly. Such simplification of rules around "caring for the elderly" might help alleviate the cost to the state of care of parents with dementia as carers have a financial benefit and not just a moral benefit from their years of effort ( both emotional and financial ).

February 2, 2014 @ 11:00am
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