A Typical Story
Dorothy was in her late 80s, was living alone in a big house in the suburbs, and had been losing her balance a lot. Her son Don thought it was time for her to move into a nursing home. Her daughter Jane wanted her to go to an assisted-living facility near Jane. Dorothy just wanted to stay in her own home until “the end.” The three of them argued about this for months. In the meantime, Dorothy fell twice more. She escaped serious injury, but the falls just made them argue even more.
Dorothy wanted to maintain her independence. Her adult children were worried about her safety. Money was also a concern. The family seemed to be in a stalemate and nobody was happy.
Then a friend told Jane about elder mediation. Jane did some web research and talked with her brother and mom about trying it. Jane found a local mediation agency that specialized in elder issues. Although mediation was new to them, Dorothy and her two children agreed to give it a try. After a couple of half day meetings, the two mediators helped Dorothy and her children come to an agreement that they would hire a handyman to make Dorothy’s house safe from fall hazards. They also made plans to hire a nurse to check in on Dorothy twice a week. Dorothy was happy that she was able to continue to live in her own home. Don and Jane felt better because of the actions that were put in place to ensure Dorothy’s safety. The family agreed to meet again in six months to review how things were going and to see if any changes needed to be made. The family also agreed to return to mediation if other issues came up that they couldn’t resolve themselves.
Elder mediation is the process of working collaboratively to help families deal with the legal, health, financial, and emotional issues that come with aging. It’s based on the idea that with a little outside help and information, family members can find the best solutions to their specific problems.
Families often choose mediators to help them figure out things like:
- Where is the best place for Mom or Dad to live now? What about a few years from now?
- Should Mom or Dad still be driving?
- Who will care for a senior if assistance is needed? Will this care be provided by family members and/or by paid professional caregivers? How much will this cost?
- What kind of care do they need now? What about in a year from now?
- How will their care be paid for? What happens if they start to run out of money?
- What kind of end-of-life care do they want?
- Who should assume financial or medical power of attorney for them?
- If the senior is no longer legally competent to solely make decisions, who should be the guardian?
- How can the family settle disputes over wills, trusts, and estates?
- What can family members do if they are not happy with the level of service and/or care that a facility is providing?
- How does a family settle a dispute with an organization or someone who may have taken financial advantage of a senior?
Disputes within families can become emotional, especially when they involve family members who may have had troubled relationships over a long period of time. However, it is important to remember that the goal of the mediation process is to help families make difficult decisions together, rather than escalating the conflict.
Sometimes people think that the only way to settle difficult family problems is to go to court. Mediation is a good alternative to hiring attorneys. It’s usually much less expensive and much faster than taking the legal route. When using a pair of trained, credentialed, and experienced elder mediators to help facilitate difficult discussions, family members can often find good solutions to vexing problems. Since family members come up with the solutions themselves, the members of the family are much more likely to make sure that the solutions are realistic and workable rather than leaving the outcome of the dispute in the hands of a judge or jury who has limited time to make life-altering decisions in complex situations.
Mediation is also a good choice when elder family members aren’t mentally competent enough to make important decisions all on their own. A mediation session is an opportunity to make sure that older adults do have a say in what happens to them. This can be reassuring to elders who may fear that choices are being made for them without their input. Even if a senior may not be legally competent to sign legal documents, many still have the ability to express their preferences and desires for their care, their desired living situation, and what things they most value for a good quality of life.
Sometimes a judge will order a family to use mediation when families find themselves in court. However, things usually go better when someone in the family makes the suggestion to try mediation long before attorneys are hired and the legal process has begun. Elderly parents can also add instructions in their will or living trust that states that the family must first attempt mediation to help solve problems before their heirs or beneficiaries take costly legal action.
When looking for an elder mediator, the important thing is to find someone outside of your family who is trained, credentialed and experienced in issues related to the care and well-being of a senior and who can:
- Run the meetings without favoring any one side;
- Make sure that everyone is heard, including the parent(s)—even if the parent has Alzheimer’s or another kind of physical or cognitive impairment;
- Help the family settle issues that keep them apart;
- Help family members find solutions that work for the whole family;
- Offer unbiased information about local resources and agencies related to aging and caregiving;
- Suggest the names of several local, trusted, and experienced professionals who can provide useful support services.
As part of the elder mediation process, the family works together to:
The elderly parents and their children are usually present for the mediation sessions, even if that means some of them may have to participate via a phone call or a video call.
The sessions can also include:
- The adult children’s spouses.
- Grandchildren or other relatives.
- The elderly parents’ friends, medical providers, pastors, or social workers.
- Lawyers, accountants, or financial planners.
- Caregivers or geriatric care managers.
The persons you choose should be trained and experienced elder mediators. When you interview people to serve as your mediators, find out if they have the training and experience to deal with the legal, health, and emotional issues that come with aging. If you decide to hire a mediator, be aware that anyone can call himself or herself an elder-issues mediator. Elder mediators aren’t formally licensed by the State of Texas, but at a minimum should be credentialed by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association (TMCA).
Agree as a family on a few clear goals that are important to everybody. Trying to solve too many things at once can get confusing and make the mediation process last longer than it should.
When family members agree on the most important issues to be addressed, the mediators can help them get there. During a mediation session, if they can’t reach agreement on all issues, whatever progress they have made can be helpful if the unresolved issues do go to court. Mediation can also be useful during the court process, allowing family members to spend adequate time coming to agreement on their own, while leaving any unresolved issues up to a judge or jury, who often have very limited time to render a judgment.
Mediation is a voluntary and completely confidential process, facilitated by a pair of neutral mediators, which allows all parties to find the best solutions to their unique situation. Mediation can often preserve or improve relationships and enhance communication between family members. In a mediation session, the participants themselves are responsible for finding solutions that work for them. It is a win-win process unlike the court system, where a third party picks a winner and punishes the loser. Mediation is fairly affordable and quick. While mediation is not suitable for all situations, it can be very successful in bringing peace to the lives of those in conflict. Contact ElderPeace Partners to see how we might be of assistance. We are here for you and your family.