07/25/2011 07:02 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2011

Sibling Rivalry And The Death Of A Parent

"Mom always liked you best ..."

This line from the Smothers Brothers Comedy Show made people laugh. And there is a good reason why -- most of us think that our parent(s) love one of our siblings more than they love us.

This sense of one sibling being favored over another often comes to the fore in its ugliest form when a parent is dying, and there are adult children, and there have been no communications by the parents about their wishes. Whether it comes from one child "taking care" of the parents because they live close by while the other sibling lives across country, or one sibling has chosen to be the primary caretaker, this is one of the hardest areas for children to handle when parents are dying -- and the age of the adult children doesn't seem to matter.

Because of these sibling issues, it is all the more important for parents to have discussions with all of their children present at the same time (when possible), telling them what their wishes are as to how they want their body treated as they near the end of life and how they hope/want to live out their remaining days. The more conversations that take place around issues like this, the better. Unfortunately, I have witnessed far too many fights (one was actually physical) between siblings who have different beliefs about "what mom wanted" as she neared the end of her life. At the very time that family should be together, children are arguing about what might be "best" for mom or dad. (Best, of course in that child's eyes, while the other child(ren) feel differently.)

It is particularly difficult for the sibling whose life has revolved around taking care of mom and/or dad. What is to become of them once their identity as a caregiver is taken away? How will they live? Where will they live? These are important questions that should be addressed while parents are healthy, and other siblings need to be sensitive to these issues that may arise for their sister or brother. While making decisions for a loved one is never easy, it will be easier when everyone is on the same page or has at least heard from their parent what their wishes are. Decisions can then, hopefully, be made in a calm and rational way and not in a reactionary way, when all of the possible implications might be missed.

The other area, and sometimes the harder one to discuss, is money. How can you, as their child, be assured that they are continuing to be good stewards of whatever monies they have left? Who is going to ensure that mom and dad are not overspending? If one sibling has more financial stability, should that sibling be more responsible? If one sibling has less, should that sibling be less responsible? What are the moral and ethical implications of not overseeing your parents' financial means? What happens, especially in this real estate market, when their property is not worth what it was five or six years ago? How do you ensure that even as they age in place, that living there is the best financially for them? And what if it is not the best place for them to remain? Who makes that decision? Who guides the parents? Who helps the parents pack up and move? Who works with the parents to ensure that they will be happy or at least okay with the changes that need to be made in order to keep them safe both physically and financially?

Through watching what happens among siblings when money is involved, I have come to really believe that "money is the root of all evil" because when it comes to financial discussions, there is even more of a sense of entitlement on the part of some children and the sense from another that he or she has been financially very generous, while other siblings don't agree with either self-assessment. There is also more of a difference of opinion in deciding how, when and who controls the money that might be left as our parents age. They are certainly not going to have as much as they (and you) hoped they would have since both the housing and financial markets have suffered over the past four or so years. What do you do when their assets drop to precipitously low levels?

Do you think that you, as their child, are or should be responsible for how they spend their money? What happens when our parents run out of money? Is it our responsibility to help them out? If you think that mom loved you more, then you might be willing to put up the money. But what about the sibling who feels that mom didn't love them "more"?