Delegating Responsibilities Legally and Financially
Helping assume care for your parents will have an impact on your life in regards to time, emotions, and finances. This can range from minimal to a significant amount of time and money as well as the emotional toll it takes on both you and your immediate household. There may be legal issues and ramifications as well if ground rules aren't clearly laid out from the beginning.
Just stopping at the grocery store to pick up a few items for your mother on your way home from work can begin the financial impact of care giving. You need to save time, so you don't want to take the time to go and get her to shop with you, nor do you get her credit card to use. It's just a few items and you need a few things as well. The bill comes to less than $50, and you tell Mom not to worry about the money. You don't have time right now to wait for her to find her checkbook, much less to deposit a check. Time is worth more to you right now.
However, after five years of picking up things from the market two to three times a week you feel entitled to reimburse yourself from Mom's checking account before you divide up the balance with your siblings now that Mom has passed.
Your brother sees it quite differently and objects. Mom paid for your groceries when you shopped together and she paid for lunch or dinner at a restaurant whenever you took her shopping, to the doctor, or to run other errands.
Factor in the fact that you had to cut back to part time at your job in the first year you took on the responsibility for Mom, and by the next year you had to quit entirely before they fired you because you had taken off so many days when she broke her hip. A few groceries and an occasional lunch or dinner out don't come close to making up for lost salary and benefits for the past four years.
If necessary, an outsider such as an accountant can be put in charge of reimbursement purposes. In some instances, without benefit of agreements in writing, allegations of elder abuse may arise. It is best to put it all in writing and distribute the agreements to all parties. Keep everyone updated, aware, and honest.
Your brother paid the burial fees when your father died and never got reimbursed for them. Your sister has flown in three times from out of state to give you some respite when your son graduated college, your daughter got married, and your grandson was born. No one reimbursed her for her airfare. They have a strong sense of entitlement and seem to think that you being the oldest and geographically nearest child had an obligation to provide the care whatever the cost. They both feel the money needs to be divided equally.
Without the benefit of some form of agreement, your arguments can go on forever. Or you can take them into a court of law and risk losing even more. It is important to delegate responsibilities up front and to put it in writing, no matter how informal. Whether financial responsibilities are going to be reimbursed partially or in full should be agreed upon up front. Receipts should be submitted and payments made as bills come up.
If, on the other hand, financial responsibilities will be included in your contribution to the care, that should be agreed upon and noted as well. Ideally, everyone should share in the responsibility. There should be an accounting for all contributions whether it be time, money, or expertise, and these matters should be included in the ground rules as you begin this process. As things change and other obligations, expenditures, and sacrifices become evident, they should be discussed and your ground rules amended in writing and disbursed to each member involved.
For those who are not directly involved, financial matters may be a complete surprise. Your brother didn't shop for mom and didn't see how much time and money you spent each week. Nor did he realize that she only occasionally bought you any groceries, the meals out barely matched your gasoline costs, and no one has considered how much money you gave up in salary and benefits. In fact, they see it is a positive that you got to quit your job and become a stay-at-home mom.
While you would do it all over again, fighting with your siblings over who gets how much money is a hurtful process. Laying it all out on the table in the first place and updating each other as things transpire can help avoid such issues.