Often one sibling—usually the child living closest to the parents—ends up bearing the brunt of the responsibilities, says Laurie Kramer, PhD, director of the Family Resiliency Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Tensions and resentment can quickly build."
Steer Clear: Talk frankly with each other about how best to divvy up the duties so that each of you is satisfied. Living far away is no excuse. "Ask if there are any bills you can handle online or on the phone. Or offer to fly in for a week so that your sister or brother can go on a vacation," Kramer suggests. "A lot of work can be done by someone who is not giving the day-to-day care."
Deciding who gets your mother's fine china can strain the closest of family bonds. "I've seen sibling relationships ruined over the distribution of effects," says Victoria Bedford, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Indianapolis.
Steer Clear: Bedford recommends encouraging your parents to set up a will that divides things equally. And if there's no will, Jeremy B. Yorgason, PhD, an assistant professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah, suggests letting some time go by before sorting through the estate. Right after a death, emotions run high; if you can wait a few months, you'll be able to deal more rationally and sensitively with each other. Also, when in doubt, use a lottery system. "It's the fairest way to distribute items that can't be easily decided upon," Bedford says.
Sibling rivalry in adulthood is often expressed in terms of who has the higher-paying job or through their children's academic achievements, says Yorgason.
Steer Clear: Have a heart-to-heart talk—with yourself. Accept your own benchmark for success, says Kramer, and let go of comparing yourself with others. You and your siblings don't have to be in equal places to have a mutually supportive relationship, she emphasizes. Considering that these are likely to be the longest relationships you have in life, it's worth the effort.