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Previous research finds that…

There is a range of age-related transition points that may lead to family relationship problems.

These include when there is a need to:

  • Make major financial decisions, including retirement and estate planning;
  • hand over the family business or family farm;
  • make end of life decisions, including transition to an aged care facility;
  • consider health and safety considerations such as driving, health care, safety, abuse and neglect;
  • consider care for caregivers and caregiver burden; and
  • make decisions around relationship concerns and religious issues.

The breakdown of family relationships can increase the risk of family disputes while parents are living, and can also increase the risk of inheritance disputes after parents have died.  How children navigate through these issues may also affect connections and family relationships into the future.

While many families can successfully navigate life-course decisions, at certain points relationship problems are more like to appear or escalate.  Where there is a history of poor childhood relationships, and/or challenged problem solving and communication skills, it can be difficult to resolve family conflict.  Families often have to participate in decision-making in areas where they have little experience or they have exhausted their usual coping strategies and are unable to make these decisions.  Stress may lead to resurfacing of childhood sibling rivalry and past unresolved conflict.  In addition, adult siblings may go about developing solutions differently from their siblings, and without consultation with parents or other family members.  There may also be resentment by an adult child who is doing the most primary care.

If parents have insufficient funds to pay for needed aged care services, there may be conflict over who should pay, especially when some family members are in better financial circumstances than others.  Some adult children may also care more about the inheritance than their parents.  This can lead to siblings accusing other siblings of stealing money, abusing their parent, or mishandling assets.  Disputes may also arise over inheritances after the death of parents, but also when parents sell the family home and money is transferred to adult children.  Where a parent has married for a second or third time or has co-habited with a new partner for some time, there may be distrust or dislike between adult children and the step-parent and/or step-siblings.

Some parents may not cope with adult children making major life decisions in respect of their housing, health or finances.  In situations of heightened emotions, parents may see these decisions as loss of their autonomy or as their children trying to put them away.  Where there are health concerns or diminished capacity, there may be involvement of public advocates, health practitioners or other services, and there may be disputes that involve, or require the services of, particular professionals.

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites