Beverly resents the fact that she is the primary caregiver for her aging mother. Mom wants to move in with her and leave the house, her primary asset, equally to Beverly and her three brothers who all live out of state. But Beverly can only work part time because of care giving responsibilities for both her kids and her mom. She's lost income and now will incur greater expense, why should she be the only one?
With about 20 million Americans providing care for a parent or in-law, according to CBS News, these and similar issues are being played out in homes across America everyday. Family members are separated by time zones, geography, and marriage. They are also very busy -- nearly 60 percent of the nation's 44 million caregivers work. So it becomes very difficult to navigate this complicated and emotional minefield.
And, that assumes everyone is getting along. Mix in typical family dynamics from "[M]om always liked you best," to "I am always the one to do the dirty work," and, old family dynamics boomerang back from the past and sabotage all attempts at wise family decision making. What's a family to do?
Enter the Elder Mediator, a neutral party who is skilled in listening, defusing tensions, explaining caregiving options, and focusing you on looking at your own and each other's concerns and options, and assisting you in negotiating an agreement that works for everyone. The Mediator facilitates a targeted and purposeful conversation.
The goal of Elder Mediation (EM), an emerging, specialized type of mediation, is twofold. The first is to provide a decision-making forum for families that gives seniors a voice in the process and aids family members to communicate with compassion and candor about the senior needs . The second goal is to help families develop communication strategies to enable them to successfully work together in the future.
Like all forms of mediation, EM is completely voluntary, you can leave at anytime, confidential, and flexible. Solutions can be informal or end in a formalized agreement, temporary or address the long term and end in a comprehensive, written agreement. Your family's unique situation dictates the outcomes of the mediation.
The mediator can assist your family in identifying and including experts such as social workers, estate-planners, geriatric care managers, or health-care or financial professionals who can supply critical information for family decision making. In cases in which your senior cannot participate without assistance, the mediator can help you find someone with experience to serve as your elder's advocate during the mediation. Even if conditions have broken down in your family to the point where litigation is pending or threatened, mediation can still work. Courts take away your power to decide, mediation empowers providing an efficient and sensitive forum for complicated elder care decisions.
Mediation is not therapy. Mediators can be attorneys, counseling or other professionals. All must be trained in mediation technique before offering services to the public. This is important because many seniors were raised to believe that counseling is taboo. Mediation's goal is to reach an agreement acceptable to everyone through a structured, respectful, and fair process rather than to bring clarity to personal or family dynamics.
Disputes Among Adult Siblings. Unresolved childhood conflicts can spill into adult dynamics. Siblings, now dealing with different geographic, professional, economic, and family conditions may find working together difficult. Different siblings may have strong feelings about how the estate should be bequeathed depending upon how you see yours and your siblings' contributions to family well being. Add in outspoken spouses with strong opinions and thoughtful decision making becomes impossible.
Decisions About Medical Care. The best medical route for your senior's care may not be clear or apparent. You and your siblings may have different but strongly help opinions about the route to take.
Financial Decisions. How will money be spent? Or invested? Who will be involved? Money comes into play in almost every family dispute. But you and your siblings may never have talked to your parents or each other about family finances. How do you go about deciding housing, medical care, insurance, investments, handling major assets or all the extras that crop up? Where do you start? And if your senior decides to appoint a Power of Attorney, who should it be?
Guardianship. Frequently you or a sibling notices that your senior can no longer handle a particular task as a sign that your senior needs to have someone else in charge of all your parent's activities. This means guardianship. Typically as people age, they exhibit inconsistent abilities. Your senior may be capable of living alone but needs help with transportation or paying bills. Mediation can prevent unnecessary guardianships.
Inheritance Disputes. All parents hope that their grown children will remain close and love and support each other. But who get what looms large on the horizon and now everyone is jockeying for position. What's "more important" economic or sentimental considerations? Is it possible to have the estate plan structured to respond to different individual needs? How do you talk about this with your parents and siblings in a calm, respectful and rational manner?
Post Guardianship Appointment Decisions. Even after a guardian is appointed there are many ongoing decision to make which family conflict may continue to impede.
Residence Decisions. Can your senior stay in her home? What level of care and assistance does he need? What makes the most sense financially? If the house is sold, who should get what? How do you decide what is "fair"? And do you all agree on the definition for fair? Should a sibling's economic circumstances affect their "fair share"? How about your older sister who lives close to your parent and is expected to visit 2-3 times a week to help with shopping, laundry and other household chores?
Early Intervention is Best
"When you have to make a choice and don't make it, that is in itself a choice." William James, American Psychologist and Philosopher
You can always wait until no one is talking to each other and everyone is planning to go to court, but why wait until the crisis? Although your family's age related concerns are unique, there are similar legal, medical and financial decisions that need to be made. Avoiding tackling the hard issue may lead to financial loss, fewer options, and emotional turmoil. Working through them together with an Elder Mediator often preserves financial and family well being.
While mediation can occur at anytime, even during a court case, why let things get to that point? Why not try mediation at the beginning of the decision-making process - when everyone needs to gather information, determine the realities, cope with feelings, develop options and alternatives and do so with a clear head? A trained neutral can simply convene a family meeting and facilitate the discussion, ensuring that everyone is heard and that needed outside information is obtained and disseminated.