I often meet with families who are in conflict over how best to care for an elderly parent or grandparent. It's usually the case where one child thinks mom should remain living at home as she has been, while another child feels there needs to be live-in help and yet another child (usually the one who lives out of state!) thinks mom should go into a nursing facility. As an objective third-party, I can see why there is disagreement, but the parties themselves have a difficult time hearing and listening to one another, usually for reasons that stem back to when they were children and perhaps even in diapers.
Conflict is not always “legal” in nature
Usually the conflict is more a function of a family history or culture that is not prepared to deal with the stress of caring for an elderly parent, especially if the parent was very independent all their adult life and is reluctant to accept help. And sometimes the conflict is simply the result of the parties not knowing what their options are in terms of mom's needs and care requirements. In those situations, I will suggest that the family engage a Geriatric Care Manager before taking legal action.
What is a Geriatric Care Manager?
A Geriatric Care Manger (GCM) is a professional, usually a social worker or nurse, who has specific training and knowledge about how best to accommodate an elderly person. They typically serve as a consultant who can come into the home, do an assessment and provide care options. I will refer the family to a GCM if I feel the conflict has more to do with the family not sure of what to do, as opposed to there being legal issues involving allegations of undue influence, or abuse or undue control over a parent's finances or decision making. Sometimes there is a fine line between these concerns, but in many cases, bringing in a third-party with expertise in elder care is a sensible option.
How can a Geriatric Care Manger help?
In addition to educating the family about an elderly person's needs and offering options that the family may not have been aware of, a GCM also serves as a disinterested third-party who can relate to all the children and serve as a mediator of sorts. If they have good people skills, they can diffuse an otherwise conflicted situation and find common ground among the disputing siblings, and still meet the needs of the elderly person. If all goes well, the GCM can prepare a written “Care Plan” to which the family can refer in terms of navigating future events and milestones.
How to find a Geriatric Care Managers?
My office works with several GCMs so you are free to call my office for a referral if you are in the central/north Jersey area. However, there is a national association of GCMs called Aging Life Care Association that has a website where you can search for a GCM in your area. Just type in your zip code.
Sometimes resorting to a lawyer when dealing with care issues for your aging parents is like hitting a tack with a sledgehammer. It's simply overkill and the wrong tool for the job that is likely to lead to more conflict and distance between family members. That is really the opposite of what you want. When addressing the needs of an elderly parent, you want all hands on deck so that the accommodations necessary to meet those needs can be shared by all family members, not just the one or two people who feel responsible.