Disabilities Affect Whole Families

More than 54 million Americans have a disability, so the likelihood of caring for a sibling with special needs or a disability is high. According to the Easter Seals Siblings Study sponsored by MassMutual, only one-third of respondents feel financially prepared to assume the responsibilities of being role.

“There is an undeniable bond between siblings, which can be especially close when one has special needs, but along with this relationship comes a unique set of circumstances and a great deal of responsibility,” says Joanne Gruszkos, founder and director of the SpecialCare Program, MassMutual. “For sibling caregivers, it’s critical to not only set realistic expectations, but also prepare financially, emotionally and physically.”

Commissioned in 2012, The Easter Seals Siblings Study revealed the insecurity and potential burdens sibling caregivers face throughout their lives.

  • 60% wish they knew more about planning for their sibling’s care and finances.
  • 40% say caring for a sibling with a disability has caused financial stress on their family.
  • 29% spend up to 20 hours per week providing care

“The findings help us shape our support for families caring for someone with a disability and raise greater awareness about the challenges caregivers face,” says Patricia Wright, Easter Seals National Director of Autism Services. “There are more than 65 million caregivers in the United States and the Siblings Study paints a better picture of their needs, especially of those who are caring for a sibling.”

These 65 million people—29% of the U.S. population—provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one, according to the study “Caregiving in the United States” by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP, November 2009.

If you want to insure you won’t become a burden for your siblings, take personal financial responsibility and make sure you have taken advantage of disability insurance through your employer and/or have purchased individual disability insurance from your insurance agent or financial advisor.

by Marvin H. Feldman

Marvin H. Feldman, CLU, ChFC, RFC, is president of the Feldman Financial Group in Palm Harbor, Fla., and president and CEO of Life Happens. He is a 41-year Million Dollar Round Table member and was the 2002 president. He is a 33-year member of the MDRT Top of the Table and a past Top of the Table chairman. He also is the recipient of the 2011 John Newton Russell award, the highest honor bestowed on an individual by the insurance industry.

  1. Impact may vary, depending upon the relationship of the sibling to their brother or sister with the disability, as well as how prepared they were when they needed to step into the role. In families where successor-guardian planning has not taken place, siblings may suddenly learn they are responsible for the care of their disabled siblings and not be prepared. An added dimension is dependent on whether the sibling guardian has a family of their own to care for.

  2. Through the Siblings Study, Easter Seals found siblings who have a brother or sister with a disability are already involved in their sibling’s day-to-day life more than the general public. That is, 80 percent have a close relationship with their sibling with a disability and this relationship enhances their life — teaching them patience, understanding, compassion and providing perspective. Only sixty percent of the general public feels the same way.

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