For six years, I’ve been the live-in caregiver for my mom, who has advanced-stage Alzheimer’s. At the time my brother and sister and I were weighing our options for caring for our mother (our father passed away 15 years ago), I had lost my marketing job six months prior. I was happy to volunteer to take on this role: It was important for all of us to keep her out of a nursing home, care by a family member was ideal, and frankly, I didn’t have many other options for a place to live. My brother, sister and I agreed that I would live in the house with our mother, and from her savings I would get paid a monthly stipend somewhat less than what a professional in-home care provider would earn, since that is all our mom’s savings could afford. I agreed the arrangement was fair.
Needless to say, these past years have been very trying, but they have also been incredibly rewarding and I am glad I’ve had this time with my mom. It has also brought me closer to my brother and sister, who have expressed their appreciation for the work that I do and lend a hand when they can. However, now that it appears that our mother will be passing soon, I feel like we need to address how her assets will be divided. Her will dictates that her home and a small investment fund be divided equally three ways between her three children. I don’t think that’s fair. I will be forced out in the world, facing a job market I have been absent from for six years, in an industry that has completely changed. I feel I should get a larger share of the estate to compensate me for my years of caring for our mother, but for the first time in this whole process, my siblings and I are at serious odds. Who’s right?
— Exploited in Evanston
Darling, I’m afraid your siblings are right, and you are wrong. On a purely legal level, your mother’s will must be honored. In terms of morality and fairness, I think the same applies.
When you accepted the role as your mother’s caregiver, it sounds as if you did so out of genuine care not only for an aging parent, but also for the good of your whole family. But you also had financial motivation — you were down and out, and the promise of a warm home and monthly paycheck was a welcome relief from a precarious future. There is nothing wrong with this motivation — it is human and maybe a great money move on your part at that time. But you must recognize it as such before you can move forward with dealing with the end of your mom’s life and sibling relations. You are not a martyr.
When you agreed to take care of your mom, you say you felt the compensation was fair. You are not entitled to further compensation — there is no retroactive negotiating, and you cannot arbitrarily decide that you’re entitled to more. It is unfortunate that your professional skills are now outdated, but that’s a separate issue — one that stems from decisions that you alone made. Neither your mother nor your siblings are further indebted to you for your services.
I hope you can come to terms with this in these final months of your mother life — as you mentioned that this chapter has been one of closeness for your family and it would be wonderful if that sentiment continues. In the meantime, I urge you to reach out to recruiters and job placement centers to assess your professional options so you can move forward into your own next chapter with a sense of abundance, rather than fear and entitlement.
Emma Johnson blogs at WealthySingleMommy. She is a freelance business and personal finance journalist, and mom of two. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.