How to ask a sibling to chip in for mom or dad's care

  @Money September 10, 2013: 4:09 PM ET
Do you talk to your parents about money?
(Money Magazine)

The financial burden of caring for an elderly parent is typically a large one: Family caregivers spend an average $5,500 a year, AARP reports.

That's not to mention the physical and emotional toll. (Depression rates among working women caregivers over 50 are 2½ times higher than those of non-caregivers, one study found.)

So if your siblings aren't sharing the load, you're probably bearing some resentment. "Caregivers often don't know how to ask for help," says Gail Hunt of the National Alliance for Caregiving. "They just keep plugging away without realizing they're burning out."

Use this talk to get your brother to spare a dime and lend a hand.

The Ground Rules

Know your goals. In the short term you may want your brother to split the bills or take Dad on weekends. Also, deciding what you want long term, for you and your parent, helps put the situation in perspective, says Clare Fowler of Mediate.com.

Avoid finger-pointing. Stick to what's happening now, not what your sis has failed to do in the past. "Blaming is not going to be helpful," says family therapist Barry Sommer.

Have a fail-safe. Emotions can run high with siblings. When tempers impede progress, call a time-out.

When You're Face to Face...

1. Opening gambit: "I wanted to talk about Mom's care since she broke her hip. To start with, thank you for staying with her the last time I was away."

Why it works: By acknowledging your sibling's contributions, you're setting yourself up as partners who will tackle the problem together -- and preventing old rivalries from reemerging, says Vicki Rackner, author of Caregiving Without Regrets.

Related: How to tell your kid you're cutting him off

2. State the problem: "The home health aide has hastened her recovery. But paying $720 a week is straining our budget and putting us behind on college savings."

Why it works: You're laying out the costs straightforwardly, while providing enough detail of how this impacts your finances that he knows you're not just being dramatic. "With family, it's important to be direct or else you'll sound disingenuous," says Fowler.

3. Ask, don't tell: "What do you think you could contribute?"

Why it works: You're probably not fully aware of your sibling's obligations and resources, so putting this question to him -- rather than making a demand -- will help you figure out a reasonable care-sharing strategy.

If you get pushback, figure out where it's coming from and try to address his concerns. Should money be the issue, for example, you could suggest dividing costs based on income or having him spend more time with Mom so you can cut back the aide's hours.

Related: How to ask a pal or relative to pay you back

4. Split the jobs: "I'd like help thinking about what care Mom needs. Maybe we can start a list of duties -- and figure out who should do what?"

Why it works: Collaborating on this list can help your sibling realize how much time caregiving requires. If he or she lives far away and any division of labor would leave you with a hefty load, you might ask your sib to share the cost of a geriatric-care manager to help you out.

5. Iterate a plan: "So we'll split costs 60/40, with the option to revisit if our situations change. We'll also Skype weekly to discuss Mom's progress."

Why it works: "You're summing up the conversation and framing it so the goals are clear for both of you," says Fowler. You'll leave with a positive feeling and reminder of what must be done. To top of page

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