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Posted June 8, 2007

Ask An Expert

Finances: Is Caregiving Pay from Your Siblings Fair?

Q. I take care of my elderly mother who has dementia and severe heart problems. I receive no compensation from my siblings for this. Is it customary for siblings to pay a salary to the caregiving sibling? What about at the time of death? Can I ask the probate court to compensate me for my caregiving? Not that I'm ungrateful, but this is hard work, and my siblings never help me out -- I have not had a day off in 17 months.

Peggy H., Thorp, Wisconsin.

A. In reading how you describe your situation, it seems that you have questions about how other families handle the care and financial responsibilities of a loved one, how to get some respite for yourself, and how to structure some compensation for your out-of-pocket expenses in caring for your mother. 

First of all, every family, as you can imagine, handles the care and financial responsibilities of caregiving in very different ways. For situations where family consensus may be needed or conflict resolution may be desired, then it can be wise to seek the help of a geriatric care manager or counselor. 

Second, you ask if it is customary for siblings to compensate another sibling for assuming caregiving duties. I don't know how common or uncommon the practice might be, but I do believe that most people don't realize just how much money a caregiver does take out of his or her own pocket to help a loved one. Outlining expenses for your mother and asking directly for the help of each sibling to his or her ability to contribute might help them to realize just how much of the cost and care you have been absorbing and possibly result in their participation.  

As to the issue of obtaining financial compensation through probate, an elder law attorney tells me there is no avenue in probate to successfully gain compensation for the help one has rendered to a family member. The best avenue is to have a signed agreement up front -- and one which has been drawn up and witnessed by an attorney. Sometimes a parent will enter into a "caregiver contract" in order to pay an adult son or daughter for their help. These contracts should be created with an attorney as there are many financial consequences. Given the fact that your mother has dementia, it may not be feasible to do this at this point because she may not be competent to enter into a legal agreement (a requirement). Siblings may be able to create their own "contracts" by which they agree to share expenses or provide some compensation to the caregiving sibling -- again, obtaining the services of an attorney is strongly advised. 

Now to the good news: By contacting the groups listed below, you may find help in the form of services, information and referral, respite care, and even perhaps some financial assistance. 

1. The Family Caregiver Support Network (FCSN), a free resource center that helps family members and friends who are involved in the care of older adults (age 60-plus). FCSN has local, regional, state and national family caregiver and eldercare contacts for resources. To contact FCSN, you may call (414) 220-8600 or toll-free at (800) 449-4481. This group happens to be based in Wisconisn. 

2. Respite Care Association of Wisconsin (RCAW) is a statewide organization dedicated to promoting planned and crisis respite care. RCAW provides a variety of services including information and referral, a lending library, and publications. Phone RCAW toll-free at 866-702-7229 or visit their website at info@respitecarewi.org.

3. The Alzheimer's Family and Caregiver Support Program, or AFCSP, provides assistance to family members caring for a loved one with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or related disorder and who is financially eligible for the program. In some instances, funding is applied to expanding and developing services related to Alzheimer's disease, such as respite care, adult day care or support groups. In some areas, money may be provided directly to families to help pay for items such as included nutritional supplements, security systems, specialized clothing, home delivered meals, hobby equipment and stair chair lifts.

Best of luck to you and please do seek some help. By taking good care of yourself, you'll be taking good care of your mother as well.

This answer is provided by Paula S. McCarron, a writer with more than 20 years of experience in healthcare, including nursing homes and hospice. Her writing includes extensive reporting on caregiver compensation issues. She lives in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and can be reached at paulamccarron@gmail.com.

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