Extended Family

Finding A Common Purpose

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Are you struggling keeping relationships positive among family members while caring for an aging parent? A legal Family Agreement may be just what you need.

You think it will never happen to you. Your family is tight. Nothing could possibly come between you, especially not when it comes to the growing needs of your aging parent. You would never need something as impersonal or formal as a legal family agreement.

When my FIL passed away in 2014, my husband and I swiftly made the decision to move in with my MIL. She has Frontotemporal Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and various other health issues that make it impossible for her to live on her own.

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My husband and I were the obvious choice for primary caregivers because:

  • We were already planning to build a home on the property and were already living in the adjacent “apartment”. Our family would suffer very little “uprooting”.
  • My husband’s siblings are scattered across the country meaning if they were to take on my MIL’s care, she would have to be uprooted.
  • My MIL’s home is filled with memories making the progression of her disease slower and daily life less confusing and painful for her.
  • Our home is a large and easily fits a growing family.

Unfortunately, my father-in-law left no instructions and my mother-in-law had no long-term plan of care. Armed only with a med list, business cards to her numerous doctors, and my sibling-in-laws’ assurance me that I would do great we started out on this new phase of life.

Related Post: How to Know When to Make Decisions for Your Aging Parent

Where the Problems Began

When we moved into my MIL’s home, I thought our lives could simply continue as they had. My husband and I would run our home as we chose; make financial decisions, decorate like we wanted, throw out anything we didn’t need.

My MIL’s needs would be easily met. I’d make her appointments, buy her clothes and whatever else she needed, and do my best to keep her happy and healthy.

My husband’s siblings were of course, always welcome in our home, could communicate with their mom whenever they wanted, but would live their lives separate from ours.

And this is how we lived. For about two months.

Related Post: Establishing Your Role As Caregiver

Concerns

My sibling-in-laws’ began expressing concerns.

  • Why is this money being spent?
  • Where did this item go?
  • What exactly is going on with mom? Why is she acting like this and saying these things? Surely, there’s something more than “memory loss”.
  • What are the details of our plan?

My husband and I would generally answer their questions but continued to live our lives the same way we always had just with the addition of my MIL. My husband’s siblings were only able to see bits and pieces of our lives but had no real conception of what was going on with their mom.

Naturally, this caused them some concern. We weren’t being intentionally deceptive, we were just oblivious to their need for deeper insight. We were busy making adjustments, discovering what my MIL’s needs really were, figuring out how to be a functional multi-generational home.

Related Post: Being Confident In Your Authority As A caregiver for Your Aging Parent

The Culmination

Soon, my husband’s siblings were communicating among themselves about our lives. Accusations toward my husband and myself escalated. Our very character was being questioned and examined. My husband’s siblings were going behind us, speaking to my MIL’s doctors without our knowledge, asking our neighbors and friends to “spy” for them. My husband and I, highly hurt and insulted, stopped communicating with them all together.

Our entire family was just spinning in circles. My MIL was becoming more and more stressed about the family tensions. Insults, accusations, and cruelty was running unchecked among us. No one knew what to do anymore.

The tip of our iceberg was when my husband’s siblings started discussing selling everything (including our home!) and putting my MIL in assisted living. I knew we had to do something drastic.

My husband and I hired an attorney, a man who knew my husband’s father and someone we trusted, to represent only my MIL.

We turned over every document we had; bank statements, wills, doctor’s notes, notes from our home health aids. After looking it all over, he cleared all of us of legal wrongdoing.

He informed us that our error was in communication. You see, while we all had a common purpose – to see my MIL healthy, happy, and at home, we were not on the same page about how it was to happen.

The Solution: A Legal Family Agreement

My MIL’s attorney recommended drawing up a legal family agreement. In this agreement, my MIL’s wishes were clearly spelled out:

  • to stay in her home until it was medically necessary for her to move.
  •  My sister-in-law given POA and named financier. She responsible for all financial aspects of my MIL’s care.
  • My husband and I have medical POA. I was listed as primary caregiver and guardian.

In addition to roles, limits were set, guidelines for discussion were laid out, and protections for all of us were put in place. We appointed my MIL’s attorney as our mediator. Anytime we cannot agree, we are able to call on him to help us keep such discord and upheaval from upsetting our lives again.

Related Post: How to Take Care of Your Aging Parent

Our legal family agreement has greatly eased our tensions. We have all been able to apologize for the things we said during that stressful period and have restored relationships. While the process was difficult, it showed me that we all have a common purpose – to keep my MIL safe and healthy and to abide by her wish to remain at home.

Our legal family agreement gives everyone who wants it a purpose and a job to do. The agreement opened an avenue of communication among us that we were sorely lacking. We are now not only working toward our common purpose of seeing that my mother-in-law gets the care and lifestyle she deserves but we have a cohesive path to get there.

If you are finding yourself struggling with discord among your family, I strongly suggest mediation as soon as possible. Establish roles, set boundaries, and work toward a common purpose. Caring for an aging parent is difficult enough without adding the stress of family discord.

Did you like this post? Has your family tried a legal family agreement to help you find a common purpose in caring for your aging parent? Let me know in the comments below!

Empowering women to THRIVE in their multi-generational homes.

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