What Happens If Family Members Disagree About Care of an Elder Parent?

Aging parents often need help with personal care, health concerns, and financial decisions. They may even lose the mental capacity to make decisions and care for themselves. If an elderly parent has legal documents authorizing individuals to handle those matters and issues, there may not be any family disagreements. Unfortunately, elders often do not have the necessary documents in place. What happens then — especially if family members cannot agree about the elder’s care and finances?

Family Disputes Over an Aging Parent’s Care and Finances

Family disagreements over care of an aging parent vary significantly in severity. They can arise over a myriad of different issues, from who provides necessary personal care to who assists with paying bills and handles other financial matters. In the extreme, the disputes may involve a family member asserting pressure on the parent to take specific actions beneficial to the individual family member. Mismanagement of finances also may occur.

In many cases, the parent can prevent these types of family issues — or even resolve them when they begin to surface — by talking with an elder law and estate planning attorney. With the appropriate documents in place, the parent makes clear which family members have responsibility for providing assistance if it becomes necessary.

If the parent becomes mentally incapable of making decisions and does not have the essential documents in place, family members may disagree about who cares for the parent and manages the finances. Those disputes sometimes escalate to the point where they ruin lifelong relationships irreparably. Even more importantly, they also may result in the elder not receiving necessary care or in the elder’s financial matters being mismanaged.

Families should try to address parental care matters by focusing on what the parent needs and wants or would want. When that is not possible, the only option is to ask a court to appoint a guardian and conservator for the elder parent.

Guardianship and Conservatorship (Living Probate)

If an individual becomes mentally incompetent and does not have durable powers of attorney designating agents to make decisions, no one has legal authority to make those decisions in the absence of a court order — not even a spouse. In Michigan, probate courts have sole authority to appoint guardians and conservators to make decisions for persons who lack legal capacity.

Family members who disagree about care of an elderly parent and management of the parent’s finances can initiate actions for guardianship and conservatorship of the parent. Assistance of an experienced probate litigation attorney is essential in these court proceedings. The actions can become particularly contentious and difficult if multiple opposing family members are parties.

Guardianship and conservatorship proceedings are sometimes referred to as living probate. In the proceedings, a judge holds a hearing and then appoints a guardian to provide personal care for an individual and/or a conservator to manage the person’s finances. At that point, the individual loses the ability to make some or all of his or her own decisions.

What Should You Do If Family Disagreements Begin to Surface?

If family disagreements about care of an elder parent occur, you should try to address them at the earliest possible time. Allowing them to fester and grow will only make things worse for everyone.

A parent who still has mental capacity should be encouraged to talk with an estate planning attorney. Even if your parent does not know how to resolve the disagreements and choose responsible individuals, an experienced attorney can help them find the right answers. Then, the lawyer will assist your parent in putting the necessary documents in place to resolve the disputes and prevent the parent from suffering adverse effects from the disagreements.

If your parent does not have an estate plan and no longer is mentally competent — or you are uncertain about capacity — you should talk with an elder law and estate planning attorney. The lawyer can explain how the law determines legal capacity and what steps you can take with or for your parent.

If guardianship and conservatorship proceedings become necessary, you should contact an experienced probate litigation attorney. Your lawyer will explain the process and what to expect, based on your family’s individual circumstances.

Talk With Our Troy Michigan Probate Litigation and Elder Law Attorneys

BRMM attorneys assist clients with the full range of legal needs relating to probate litigation, including guardianships and conservatorships, as well as matters involving elder law and estate planning. We’ve been providing legal services to clients for more than 40 years. Our compassion, credentials, and commitment set us apart.

Call us at (248) 494-4577 to talk about matters relating to your aging parent or other legal issues. We serve clients in Troy, Oakland County, and surrounding areas, as well as out-of-state clients with estate and probate matters arising in Michigan.

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