Elder mediation has been around for years, but it has started to gain popularity rapidly over the past two decades. As a person ages, they face several transitions that can cause disputes or problems within the family dynamics. This is where elder mediation comes in. Common situations that can benefit from elder mediation include disputes about residences, estates, wills, caregiving responsibilities, and property sales.
So, what is elder mediation and how can it help, and what should you cover in your mediation sessions? We’re going to give you the answer to these questions and much more so you get a good understanding on what elder mediation and mediators can do for your family during this emotional and sometimes difficult time.
Defining Elder Mediation
People go to mediation to resolve any disputes they have with another party. In meditation, two or more groups of people or individuals meet in a neutral space and attempt to resolve any conflict or disputes with the help of a neutral third party. This neutral third party is the mediator, and it may be useful to have additional support like a clergy member, social worker, geriatric care manager, lawyer, or financial planner on-hand as well.
Since elder mediation is secure, confidential, private, and completely voluntary, it gives families a safe platform to voice their concerns, ask questions, or settle disputes. The mediator holds no power over the decisions, and they simply help to guide the conversation in a productive and direct manner.
The elder mediation process has two broad goals. The first goal is to help families or concerned parties come to mutual agreements and beneficial solutions for everyone involved. The second goal is to help the parties open the lines of communication and develop communication strategies to help with future decisions.
You can have your mediation meeting in your home, senior living facilities, or at the mediator’s office. The mediator can help both parties see each other’s point of view, and the mediator is a highly skilled individual in the area of conflict resolution. Additionally, someone who specializes in elder mediation is up-to-date and very knowledgeable about topics concerning older adults. These topics include but are not limited to:
- Abuse or neglect
- Caregiver burden
- End of life arrangements or issues
- Estate planning
- Family business
- Financial problems or concerns
- Healthcare concerns (at home, in a long-term facility, or in a hospital)
- Holiday schedules
- Living or housing arrangements
- Medical decisions and power of attorney
- Nursing home or assisted living decisions
- Relationship concerns
- Religious concerns or issues
- Safety concerns or environment issues
Why Families Choose Elder Mediation
Many people choose elder mediation instead of going to court because it’s less stressful for everyone, and both parties can have a certain amount of control over the outcome. In court, you have very little control over the final decision, and it’s very difficult to have a decision appealed without going back to court.
It also gives you a chance to resolve your disputes in an efficient and timely manner, and you can help to tailor an outcome to suit your family’s individual needs or wants. Since you’re working together and trying to cooperate to come to the best possible outcome, elder mediation can also help heal any rifts or strained relationships. Mediation also has a higher satisfaction rate for everyone involved, and the outcomes tend to be longer lasting.
Sometimes, a dispute can escalate to the court level, and this is where everyone involved loses a great deal of control. A court or a judge’s task isn’t to come up with a creative solution to the problem, and not all parties have a chance to feel like they were able to voice their concerns and be heard. Instead, a judge or court will interpret any laws. This can lead to family members feeling unsatisfied with the results, and the results are more likely to fail.
Courtroom disputes can also cause rifts or destroy families as family members tend to take sides. There usually isn’t a clear “winner” when you go to court, and this is why so many people decide to try elder mediation before escalating it to the court level. Finally, mediation is usually less exhausting on an emotional and physical level, as well as in terms of money and time.
Early Intervention is the Key to Success
As family members start to age, more and more questions start to come up, and most families have similar financial, legal, or medicinal decisions that they have to decide and agree on. Things like caregiving responsibilities, health care proxies, wills, trusts, and housing decisions are often ignored, disputed, or flat out avoided.
This can only hurt the family in terms of emotional turmoil, financial loss, and fewer choices. Enlisting the help of an elder mediation service can go a long way in helping the family resolve any disputes and make sure that the elder’s wishes are clear, written out, and followed.
An early intervention is the key to success before the family goes into a crisis. When a family is going to attempt to agree on important decisions like the ones we mentioned, it’s important to have a neutral third party. This third party can help ensure that everyone in the family has the space and time to voice their concerns, and they can help direct the conversation in a positive and productive way.
Once a family hits a crisis level, it’s much more difficult for everyone involved. A crisis means that there are heightened emotions and tension that can lead to an imbalance in the family. This can quickly result in outside intervention from law enforcement or disputes that don’t go away within the family. Early intervention can help avoid these levels of escalation.
Conflicts Early Intervention May Prevent
There are numerous conflicts and disputes that early intervention can successfully navigate. While the exact conflicts vary from family to family, the following broad categories are universal.
- Adult Sibling Disputes
As parents of family members age, the family dynamics start to change. One child may take on more responsibility due to their closer proximity to their parents or aging family members. Siblings that are trying to deal with their economic, geographic, and family differences may find it difficult to work together and come to agreements that everyone is happy with. Additionally, resentment can build from one sibling taking on the majority of the responsibility.
Elder mediators have a lot of experience in the areas of caregiver burnout, sibling disputes, and inheritance issues. Mediation allows each sibling to speak their concerns or ask their questions and work toward a solution that everyone is comfortable with. It’s also a key time to open the lines of communication.
- Financial Decisions
A lot of families have this unwritten rule where they don’t talk about finances. This can make it difficult for the family to try and sort through an estate or make sure that they follow the elder’s wishes. It gets even harder when you add in caregiving costs, medical bills, housing, and daily expenses.
Mediation allows the entire family to be productive and open about financial decisions. The mediator can manage the more delicate conversations, and they may suggest adding a financial planner or a CPA to the conversation. This can help the family get a realistic picture of their aging family member’s finances.
- Inheritance Disputes
Although many aging parents hope that their family continues to get along after they’re gone, inheritance disputes can be a major hurdle. Early intervention can help to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and this includes any estate, money, or property.
At this point, mediation can help everyone understand why and how their parents or the elder chose to set up their estate like they did. It’s also a chance for the elder’s lawyer to document that the elder in question is capable of making sound decisions.
- Medical Treatment and Guardianship
It’s important that the elder’s wishes are heard and followed by the family, regardless of what the family wants or thinks is best. This includes things like resuscitation in the event that the elder’s heart stops, feeding tube preferences, and life support. Additionally, if an elder is struggling in certain areas of their life like paying bills, a guardianship may come up for discussion.
Having a mediation session can help ensure that every family member gets a chance to voice their opinions. It’s also a chance for the elder to outline what they want in regards to their end of life care and resuscitation efforts. The mediator can also help the family decide which areas the elder may need guardianship over and which areas they’re still capable of handling on their own.
- Property and Living Arrangements
Telling someone that they can’t live in their own home anymore due to safety concerns can bring up a lot of resentment and anger. Additionally, trying to make the decision to sell the family home or any property can be a very emotional and turbulent time.
Elder mediation has access to resources you may not think of. For example, they may suggest bringing in a geriatric care manager to talk about any assistance, housing options, or resources available. They can also bring in a financial advisor to help the family understand their finances and offer alternatives or suggestions.
Important Documentation an Elder Should Have in Place
There are a few important documents that each elder should have in place, and elder mediation can help get everything sorted. These documents include:
- Advanced Directive for Medical Care – This medical directive ensures that your family follows your wishes. It includes what life-saving measures you want a medical facility to undertake. Additionally, it includes whether you want artificial eating and breathing support like a feeding tube or ventilator.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney – Your healthcare power of attorney is someone who can make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to due to diminished mental capacity or a medical emergency. It should be in writing, on file at the local medical facilities, and notarized.
- Financial Power of Attorney – You want to appoint a financial power of attorney that you trust, and it’s usually a child or spouse. This person can and will make decisions for you if you become incapacitated. It will include managing your finances, paying bills, selling property, and so on.
- Will – Anyone with dependents should have a valid will in place. However, this is even more important as you age. Your will should stipulate who gets what property, valuables, or any assets you may have after your death. It should be very clear and concise.
Deciding When Elder Mediation is Appropriate and Not Appropriate
Elder mediation is an appropriate step to take if a family is struggling or having conflicts over the care of aging family members. It’s appropriate if a family has problems with caregiving, health or safety concerns, living arrangements, and estate disputes. The mediator will work to protect the elder’s rights during this time and remain a neutral party that helps families come to decisions that everyone can live with.
Elder mediation is not appropriate if the mediator has concerns or reasons to believe that the elder in question is being abused, neglected, or coerced. Also, if the elder has a cognitive impairment that stops them from being able to be an active participant in the decision making, elder mediation may not be appropriate. The mediator may insist that the elder has an advocate present at each meeting that is able to make decisions for them regarding their care. This can be a social worker, a court-appointed guardian, attorney, or a geriatric care manager.
Deciding to participate in elder mediation can be a difficult and emotional time for a family. No one wants to see their loved ones age, but elder mediation can make the processes and transitions easier on everyone.
If you’d like to set up a personalized care plan for your loved one, or if you have questions or concerns, we invite you to contact us. Our friendly and professional staff are ready and willing to assist you in any way they can.