Family Feuding Over the Power of Attorney Decision

Maddie was asked by her mother to assume the role of agent under her Power of Attorney, entrusting her to act on her mother’s behalf and to place her mother’s interests ahead of her own when the time comes. Maddie lives the closest to her mother and has proven to be both responsible and trustworthy. This did not go over well with her sister Morgan or her brother Jack.

The person who assumes the role of Agent under a Power of Attorney (POA) is tasked with overseeing major decisions, both medical and financial. In some families, it may be obvious who the Agent under POA role should go to. It may be the oldest child, or it may be the child who lives closest, has a business mind, and understands the intimate details of the lives of the parents. Financial skills are obviously a must when it comes to who will handle the money and daily financial and legal matters.

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Most families have the best intentions when they select the person to assume the role. However, even strong bonds and loving relationships can become strained when big decisions, such as who will be the Agent, have to be made.

Even if the initial process of signing a power of attorney and thereby delegating legal power to an Agent under a POA goes smoothly at first, this doesn’t mean all will stay well. When a parent needs the assistance of that person, this is when you might begin to see backlash and problems from other family members. Siblings may disagree with something and a family feud can quickly ensue due to feelings of loss of control. To some, once POA has been handed over to a brother or sister, they may feel a sense of rejection or insult, as if they were considered untrustworthy.

Who Should Have Power of Attorney: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry Issues

Going back to our example, there may have been issues with sibling rivalry between Maddie, Morgan, and Jack growing up, and these issues may still be lingering. To avoid the old sibling rivalry game, brothers and sisters should consider the following:

 

  • Recognize that although you share the same parent, your relationships with that parent are each unique, and that you each have strengths to contribute;
  • Forego the temptation to assume that another sibling is more loved or more trusted by your parent;
  • Realize that in assigning the role of agent under power of attorney, your parents must take into account the fact that they are delegating potentially a lot of work (although much less work than would be required under living probate, which is what happens when a parent does not sign a power of attorney document). Maybe your parents didn’t name you because they did not want all that work forced on you; they do not want to be a burden to you even though they have equal trust in all of their children, which is almost always the reality of the situation. Maybe the child named as agent is retired, or has a less demanding work schedule, or a less stressful job. These and many other factors go into selecting who will be named as agent under a power of attorney. On the other hand, maybe your parent simply flipped a coin to decide who they named as primary agent or co-agents.
  • Realize that caring for an aging parent should always be a team effort, regardless of who holds an empowering legal document;
  • Work together, assuming new roles that take advantage of personal strengths.

Once the decision has been made who will be named as an agent under a POA, remember that it does not mean that that sibling is the only person the parent wants involved in their care. It is only one aspect of a complicated situation, and that child has been selected for that particular job. So, it’s best to come together as a team and designate the shared responsibilities so everyone realizes they are needed.

Reducing the Possibilities of Misunderstandings

The key component to avoiding strife once a decision by a parent has been made is inclusion. To reduce possibilities of misunderstandings, it is a wise idea to arrange family meetings on a routine basis. Create a caregiving plan that has the element of inclusion in its design. Here are some tips to help reduce misunderstandings:

 

  • Avoid confusion and arguments by creating a printed agenda for each family member attending. This keeps the meeting focused. It could be something as simple as a list of updates and ideas.
  • Reassure siblings that they matter, their involvement is desired, and their concerns will be heard.
  • Do all that can be done to create trust among the siblings.
  • Communicate well with siblings and try to get on the same page.

While no parent or individual can predict the future, they can take into account different personalities and behavioral differences. As an attorney who works every day with families to avoid trust and estate disputes, I am familiar with the myriad of ways familial disharmony can arise in these situations. There are a number of planning tools that can be employed to dramatically lessen the chances of a conflict.

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If the situation in a family is too much to handle when it comes to assuming important roles and caregiving for a loved one, outside help may be necessary. For example, some families choose to hire a Geriatric Care Manager (also called an Aging Life Care Specialist). This person’s role may be to manage many aspects of the parent’s care, and because he or she isn’t a family member, much of the associated drama is mitigated. When a situation has become too out of hand, the siblings may need to agree to use a mediator. This impartial listener can help to determine the best course of action for getting the parents the care they need while meeting the needs and wishes of the siblings as appropriately as possible.

In order to salvage an uncomfortable family situation, it may be advisable for members to seek family counseling. This is most likely to work when all of the members are invested in a positive outcome. The staff at the Farr Law Firm can help direct you to many resources here in the Northern Virginia area. Please see our list of Trusted Referrals of Other Senior-Serving Professionals.

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If you or members of your family have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-term Care Planning, or if a loved one is beginning to need more care than you can handle, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Estate Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888

Estate Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435

Estate Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041

Estate Planning DC: 202-587-2797

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