When you and your siblings can’t agree on an elderly parent’s care and living arrangements, MCN helps you find a way through the challenge using mediation techniques.
What happens when seniors face major life transitions and their adult children are embroiled in painful and unrelenting conflict? Issues like residence decisions, distribution of caregiving responsibilities, safety and health concerns, wills and estates, the sale of the family home, and more can divide a family for years to come. When communication is difficult and critical decisions are put on hold, families may need the help of a skilled mediator to get them “unstuck” so they can move forward.
Elder mediation provides a forum for family decision-making. It is private, confidential and completely voluntary. Mediators facilitate a purposeful and directed conversation in which family members are encouraged to express their interests and concerns. Meetings are informal and are held in locations which meet the family’s needs, including private homes, mediators’ offices and senior living facilities. The mediator is a highly skilled conflict resolution expert and a neutral facilitator who does not provide advice or “takes sides” in these discussions. The goals of mediation are twofold. First to allow families to create workable and mutually acceptable solutions to their difficult disputes and second to develop communication strategies to enable them to successfully work together to make important decisions in the future.
In mediation, people deal with the problems and issues under dispute in a timely fashion and in privacy. It is a cooperative rather than an adversarial process, so participants are often able to repair their strained relationships. Because family members develop their own solutions, which reflect their family’s unique situation, satisfaction with the outcome is quite high and these resolutions tend to be workable and long lasting.
Some family disputes reach the point where litigation proceedings have begun or have been threatened. By employing mediation, families are able to keep their conflict out of a courtroom. Courts take control away from those who need to be involved in crafting the solution. Courts are not charged with developing creative options that can leave all parties feeling heard and satisfied. Because a judge makes decisions based only on his or her interpretation of applicable laws, court decisions often are not satisfactory to anyone in the family and are therefore less likely to endure.
Furthermore, due to the adversarial nature of litigation, courtroom proceedings can destroy already fragile relationships. Accordingly, when families go to court, even the “winners” often lose. In mediation, family members can control both the process and the outcome rather than leaving it in the hands of attorneys and judges. And it means that all family members can be heard. In addition, because the parties control the process, in most cases mediation is significantly less costly than litigation both emotionally and in terms of time and money.
Often, as family members age, family dynamics can become more entrenched and complicated. Conflicts that may have simmered below the surface can boil up and make family conversations very difficult. Siblings, dealing with differences in their own geographic, economic and family situations often find working together challenging and they may have spouses who hold strong views of their own. Thoughtful decision-making can seem all but impossible.
Elder mediators are aware of the stresses and challenges which often arise among siblings when aging parents face inevitable life transitions. Caregiver burnout and inheritance issues are common in families and require difficult conversations. Health, financial and caregiving concerns are serious issues demanding that all family members weigh in with their views. As family members seek to equitably share the burdens and resources of the family, their individual perceptions of fairness are critical and must be aired and considered in a collaborative setting. Families sometimes decide to include spouses and other influential parties in some or all of these conversations.
In mediation, siblings are often able to reach consensus around these and other difficult issues. As a result of the mediation process, they often find that they develop successful communication systems which allow them to successfully address future decisions as a family.
Finances are a part of most family disputes. However, many adult siblings have never spoken about family finances with their parents as this conversation has always been off-limits. Now these families are faced with critical decisions regarding ongoing expenses for a parent’s daily living, housing, medical needs and caregiving along with all the extras that crop up. And there are serious decisions to be made about housing, investments, tax planning, insurance, and major assets. Some adult children may have skills and experience in financial matters while others may be fearful or overwhelmed by the complexities of these issues.
In situations where seniors decide to designate a Power of Attorney, they often select either the “favorite child,” the one who has been most successful financially, or the one who has been seen to be most attentive to their needs. This choice may cause resentment and conflict among adult siblings.
In mediation, families are often able to discuss finances for the first time. Delicate conversations can be managed by an experienced mediator who is attuned to the sensitive nature of these discussions. If expert advice is needed to determine the best way to manage expenses, investments, taxes, etc, a financial planner or CPA can be invited to join the conversation or can be contacted by family members outside of the mediation.
It is often not clear what the best medical route is for a particular senior. Sometimes siblings differ in their views on what would be “best” or what the senior would “want.” In these cases, mediators can help all family members articulate their interests and fears in a safe, private setting. All parties have a voice at the table where expert medical advice can be shared and reviewed, concerns can be voiced and options can be discussed in a calm, non-threatening setting.
Sometimes one daughter or son sees something their parent can no longer handle as a sign that they no longer can handle anything. They then decide that they must take control of all the elder’s activities by means of a guardianship. What often happens as people age, however, is that there is an inability to handle certain aspects of life while others are fine. For example, a senior who is threatened with foreclosure may be perfectly capable of living alone and scheduling his activities but needs help with bill paying. Mediation can give that elder the opportunity to show his children that he does not need restrictions but just a little help. This type of family meeting can prevent or limit unnecessary guardianships.