Even in close families, issues can come up that need an outside party to help deal with them. Caring for an aging parent while dealing with siblings (and their spouses) can make a difficult task even harder. Inheriting property from parents that you now own jointly with several siblings can seem like an unwelcome gift when no one can agree on what to do with it. Feeling like you were left out of a Will unfairly can make the death of a parent seem that much more devastating.
Enter the Mediator. More and more families are turning to Mediation to help sort out issues and preserve relationships while making sure everyone is heard. A recent story on National Pubic Radio has highlighted the usefulness of mediation in families who are dealing with issues of aging. As the story points out:
It's not uncommon to hear one sibling bitterly tell another: "Mom liked you best." Larsen says long-established family roles can play out the moment siblings walk into a mediation. "When they come in a room and sit at a table, they'll very often take the position they took at the dinner table 30 or 40 years ago without even realizing it," he says.
Good mediators make sure that the older person's voice is heard. Bob Rhudy, an attorney and mediator in Baltimore, says that's important even when someone has Alzheimer's or dementia and might have trouble following the conversation.
"Even when there may be some fairly substantial limitations on capacity, people have the ability to say what family member that they are comfortable with, who they care for, respect, trust, where they like to live," says Rhudy. "They may not have the capability to make substantial legal or financial decisions, but they certainly have the ability to express opinions and wishes and desires.
Mediators work with families on issues like:
- helping a parent decide how to leave their property to their children,
- helping children who jointly own property from their parents deal with being co-owners,
- helping families decide how to manage the care-giving of a parent,
- helping families who are arguing over a Will or Trust resolve their issues.
Sometimes people turn to litigation as a first resort when in a dispute about property or a Will, but I often encourage people to explore mediation first. It is private (no Court room drama here), much less costly, confidential (no public record) and voluntary. And most importantly, it can help keep the family relationship as the focus, rather than as the first thing to give up.