Mediation as an Alternative Process for Resolving Issues Involving Older Adults

Posted by LADR on Oct 16th, 2013 in Probate and Elder Law Mediation

Issues involving older adults will be very emotion-driven, and there may be angry and hurt feelings coming from various directions. There are a lot of stories and articles about our “graying” population, but perhaps the bigger story is the psychological and emotional crisis among the adult siblings who are in conflict over issues involving their parents. According to the 2009 survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP1, there are an estimated 43.5 million adults in the U.S. looking after an older relative or friend. Almost half of those surveyed said that they felt they had no choice but to assume the role and nearly 90% said the burdens are not split equally among all family members. Three-quarters of those surveyed stated that they were working while providing care, and two-thirds of those respondents indicated that employers were asked to accommodate their schedules. Siblings are often spread out geographically and separated emotionally. Often the spouse and children of the siblings will also play an important role in these family conflicts. And to make matters more complex, there are an increasing number of families in the U.S. with extended family members (e.g. step-children) with high interest in the issues.

When one or both of the parents is suffering from some form of dementia, the issues for the caregivers compound geometrically. Conflict often arises when the parents give different information to the children about how they are doing and what they need. Mom may put on a good show for her out-of-town son who comes to visit, who then does not understand why the local sibling is so alarmed about her condition. One sibling may want a parent to move into an assisted living unit while another sibling or the parent may want the parent to remain independently at home. There may be fear and worry over the financial issues of the decisions, and confusion about how the “system” works. As difficult as it is, siblings must come together to help Mom and Dad decide how and where they will live the final years of their lives.

It is not unusual for these matters to end up in court, often in the context of a contested guardianship or conservatorship proceeding. Litigation is costly, both financially and emotionally. Court-rendered decisions will often leave at least some, if not all, of the parties, dissatisfied.

Mediation is an alternative process for conflict resolution that provides a number of advantages over going to court. The parties retain control over the resolution of the disputes. Mediation is less expensive and faster than a court proceeding. Mediation is a confidential proceeding conducted in a less intimidating environment. Solutions can be creative and much more suited to the needs of the parties than what the court might be empowered to order.

1. The National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP and with funding by MetLife Foundation presenting Caregivign in the U.S.:A Focused Look at Those Caring for Someone Age 50 or older, a companion report partially based on findings from the Caregiving in the U.S. survey, November 2009.