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Every situation appropriate for elder mediation has its own uniqueness, yet some common themes abound. Typical scenarios include:

  • Disagreement over the distribution of property (may precede or follow the death of the older adult) (See Sally’s story) 
  • Conflict about end-of-life care

  • Discrepancies over caregiving roles and/or issues involved in living arrangements (see Bert’s story)

  • Family tension caused by an older adult favoring one adult child over other family members

  • Conflict over the decisions made (or not made) by the family member who has power-of-attorney

  • Families in dispute about the level of care or the method of care provided in a facility

  • Dad wants to remarry and the children each have different reactions.      Dad has chosen as his new wife…
    • …His caregiver
    • …A significantly younger neighbor/friend
    • …Someone he just met on the internet

          • When a stepparent needs assistance and your stepsiblings either aren’t helping/doing their part, or their actions are impeding on your parent’s life (financially and/or emotionally).

          • Dad was abusive to his children when you were younger; now he needs your help. The family can’t agree on whether or not to get involved. Everyone now feels “on edge.” with each other.

BERT: Disagreement over caregiving roles and/or living arrangements

Bert, a recent widower, appears hopeless and unable to handle his home and his own affairs. His daughter begs him to sell the house and move to the town where she and her three children live. But he doesn’t like the cold climate there. His single son travels a lot on business and his other son and daughter-in-law are overwhelmed with their own business and their children’s activities.
Although Bert’s children do not have especially close relationships with each other, they do care about their father and want the best for him. They just don’t know what to do without their mother in the picture; she was always the one who made decisions and kept the family together. And, Bert did not have current assigned powers-of-attorney, as Bert and his wife had been POA for each other.

Bert’s doctor suggested that it might help to work with a mediator with knowledge of aging and services for older people to help the family make decisions together. The family agreed and arranged a time when they could all come to Bert’s town and meet with the mediator together.

The mediator helped Bert and his family to express their individual perspectives on the situation, as well as what was most important to each of them. They all agreed that Bert’s happiness and well-being were paramount, even if circumstances made it difficult for any of them to have Bert live with them. Most importantly, Bert was able to talk about how much he enjoys his long-time friends in the town where he lives, and how hard it would be to leave them. Besides, he knows his way around the town and has so many memories there. He also talked about how important it is for him to spend time with his children and grandchildren.

Together, with the guidance of the mediator, they figured out that with Bert’s retirement income and the sale of the house he would have enough money to move into one of the new assisted living communities in town, where several of his friends also live. He would have assistance with all his daily needs, wouldn’t have to cook, and could be close to the medical care that he requires. Bert’s children also worked out a plan where each one of them would visit for a week every six months, so Bert would have company every other month. Each of the children agreed to call him at least once a week. They also decided (together) that Bert’s daughter would serve as his durable power of attorney for health care decisions, and his eldest son would be his personal representative for financial matters. Before they finished the mediation, they had an open discussion about his end of life choices, and worked out an advance directive to be kept on file with Bert’s doctor.

They all signed a Memorandum of Understanding the mediator prepared, that listed the roles and responsibilities of each member of the family.

SALLY: Disagreement over the distribution of property (may precede or follow the death of the older adult)

Sally lives with her mother, a widow, and provides basic caregiving duties, including shopping and meal preparation, medication monitoring and transportation for her mother to medical providers. Sally is currently unemployed, so it is convenient for her to have a place to live. Sally’s younger brother lives out-of-town; her older brother is in town, though he is a business executive with 3 demanding teenagers and not very available for his mother’s care.

The family home is a gem and has been passed on from their grandfather to their father. It is anticipated that the home will be passed on to the oldest son. At least, that is what Dad said before he died. He also told the older brother to be sure to "look after Mom."

The younger brother comes in for a visit and is quite distraught that Sally is living "for free" and providing only limited assistance, while she leaves the house frequently to drink and meet men. He is surprised to learn that Sally doesn’t even come home every night. He confronts Sally, who defends herself, stating that Mom doesn’t need her all the time. He also learns from Mom that she is so happy that her daughter is living with her, that she is making arrangements to give the house to Sally upon her death. He wonders if Sally has coerced Mom into that decision.

The two brothers meet, and they start to argue. The younger brother expected that the older brother was overseeing Mom’s care (and Sally’s antics) and at least visiting Mom on a regular basis. Then, he hears about Mom’s decision about the house. Everyone is so upset with each other that nobody is able to communicate with anyone. Mom hears a lot of arguing. She is so confused that she visits her financial advisor to see if she can help. The financial advisor recommends a mediator to "untangle" the issues.

The mediator brings the children and mother together to talk. Mom talks about how she is torn with guilt about expecting Sally to provide caregiving and letting Sally have a life. She admits to needing the help Sally provides and how uncomfortable she would be with a professional caregiver and also how lonely she is when Sally leaves. The youngest brother expresses his assessment of Mom’s needs and is very concerned about her mental status The older brother apologizes about being so busy and out of touch. Sally talks about being overwhelmed trying to care for Mom’s needs and her own, as well. The status of the house is also mentioned.

The mediator helps the family to define the various issues

  • daily care for Mom
  • Mom’s loneliness
  • oversight of Mom’s decline and her anticipated care needs
  • desire to have only family members as helpers
  • Sally’s personal needs
  • the status of the house
Solutions discussed included options for Mom’s socialization (i.e., going to a Senior Center or other activities outside of the house, with peers), how the older son could be more involved in oversight (commitment to visit once/week), and activities the younger brother could provide from out-of-town (oversight of financial affairs).

Through discussion, the older brother expressed that he didn’t really "want" the house because he had a lovely home in the suburbs. The three children agreed that it was OK if Sally was deeded the house, as long as other financial assets were divided accordingly.

Located in Denver, Colorado