Avoiding Sticky Situations with Siblings over Power of Attorney

Life is always interesting with siblings. But it can get a bit too interesting without the right strategies when it comes time to step into the role of managing their parents’ affairs.
Avoiding Sticky Situations with Siblings over Power of Attorney

A person granted Power of Attorney becomes responsible for overseeing major decisions of another, and is commonly appointed in the context of a family with aging parents. There may eventually be medical and financial decisions to be made, perhaps relating to managing investments or withdrawing life support, when a parent is incapacitated or can no longer decide on their own behalf.

In families with multiple children, the act of selecting who will assume control of an elderly parent’s affairs can be extremely complicated. Sibling relations may become tense if there is a feeling of one being ‘chosen’ as POA for a parent, while others are excluded from the role (even though being appointed as POA is actually a massive responsibility – and honestly, who needs more of those?!).

Picking a POA

While anyone can be designated as the Power of Attorney, it’s understandable that parents would be inclined to make their next of kin their agent in preparation for a time when they are less capable. After all, a trusted family member with intimate knowledge of parents’ health and financial status would likely be best for the task.

Sometimes, the responsibility automatically falls to the eldest sibling because this seems like the most fair or obvious person for the job, but it’s definitely worth considering a few factors (other than age) that might impact a family member’s suitability (or lack thereof) for the role of POA.

The adult child may be the right choice if they:

  • Are generally pretty good with finances (maybe they work as an accountant)
  • Are a medical professional (a nurse, doctor, physiotherapist or occupational therapist)
  • Are a trusted legal professional (a lawyer or a judge)
  • Are the child who lives the least distance from the parents
  • Are most familiar with the financial and medical details of the parents’ lives

The adult child may be less likely to take to the role if they:

  • Are unable to stick to their own budget or has significant debt
  • Have shown to be untrustworthy or not having the family’s best interest in mind
  • Do not have a good relationship with other siblings or the parents themselves
  • Do not live anywhere near their parents
  • Have no familiarity with the medical conditions, financial situation or day-to-day care needs of their parents

It is possible to distribute the responsibility among siblings, that is, for more than one adult child to be given Power of Attorney. Their authority to act will be specified as being jointly, or jointly and severally, in which case they can act together or independently of each other. In either case, the siblings would ideally work together regardless of the law, and should each be on the same page about putting the best interests of their parents above their own.

When Kids Act Out

Despite the best effort of parents to plan ahead while fit and healthy, bickering between siblings is sometimes inevitable. Even if the process of appointing the POA went ahead with little fuss, the family dynamic rarely remains unimpacted. 

There can be some common issues in the aftermath of the POA decision, or later on following the death of parents, when the focus on management of their affairs often becomes intensified.

These can include:

  • Sibling rivalry (a classic tale)
  • Questioning the validity of the POA document and actions of the agent (sibling)
  • Conflict when the POA is not the hands-on caregiver
  • Inability to let go, resulting in keeping parents on life support against their wishes
  • Unwillingness to follow the parents’ (or, the principal’s) wishes
  • Financial feuds over inheritance, investment decisions or entitlement to payment for caregiving or POA services to the principal

Saving Sibling Relations

There are clearly a few things to be aware of when navigating the sometimes sensitive sibling dynamics that lie around all-things POA. So here are some of our top tips for families:

Plan ahead

Take some time for forward planning to help avoid problems later. Parents should have a POA in place, and they should make their plans and wishes known to all their children, not just the one who has been put in charge.

Talk to each other regularly

An elected POA should consult regularly with other siblings. Nasty narratives and resentment is less likely if decisions are made collaboratively and transparently.

Keep detailed records

Speaking of transparency… the POA should keep clear records of all dealings on the parents’ behalf and be prepared to share them.

Get help

Seek legal and financial advice ahead of time if significant property transactions or nursing homes are involved – mistakes are better not made than rectified.

Remember what’s important

The parents’ best interests come first. If push comes to shove, their wellbeing should take precedence over sibling harmony.

Wrap up

POA documents are a crucial part of planning for future health care needs and financial decisions, just as your legal Will is. We at Willed love to remind you how vital it is to discuss personal wishes with loved ones early on, and to put them in writing using all the legal mechanisms at your disposal. Sounds like heavy work, but not as heavy as it can get when you’re deep in a spat with your siblings that could potentially be avoided! Having a carefully considered POA in place, as well as a robust Will can help prevent feuds and costly court battles, as well as facilitate wholesome teamwork in caregiving. 

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, medical, accounting or tax advice.

Share this guide:
share buttonfacebook share buttontwitter share buttonlinkedin share buttonemail share button