Why Would I Want to Use an Elder/Probate Mediator for My Family’s Dispute?

How is your relationship with your siblings now that you must make plans for an aging or ailing parent who needs your help?  If you are facing this challenge – you are definitely not alone!  Lots of life events can shake up our worlds, many of them are anticipated and some unanticipated, but nothing has quite the same effect as having to deal with difficulties relating to an aging or ailing parent.  There is no preparation for this either – as life events go, this situation simply didn’t exist until recently because we didn’t have the longevity we have now which coupled with medical advancements and healthier lifestyles  make for an ever-expanding number.  Couple this with the number of baby boomers coming up on retirement age, and it’s quite impressive.  Your odds of being a caregiver at some point in your life are quite high, and so are the chances for conflict in that relationship.   Many of the difficulties among siblings stemming from dealing with an aging parent’s care   can be managed through effective communication (if that is possible and practiced), but taking care of an aging or ailing parent can be scary for many of us because it is a reminder of our own mortality  and often puts a history of sibling dysfunction into the forefront,  and this can be a toxic combination for siblings who may want to be pulling together for their parent when they find themselves unable to do so.

How do you and your siblings get along now, how have you fared in your adult relationships with each other, and is dealing with an aging or ailing parent putting a serious strain on the relationship?  This strain will obviously affect your ability to care for your parent, as well as how you take care of yourself and your own family

How do you find a mediator?  You can look on the internet of course for someone who has experience in not just mediation but also the substantive area of elder care – so they are familiar with the types of issues (financial, emotional, medical) as well as the legal context for the disputes (appropriate use of durable power of attorney, also guardianship and conservatorship issues).  The AARP recently published an article about how to choose an elder mediator   I liked how this article referred to mediators as “peacemakers,” as that is essentially the role of a mediator in this context, and it recognizes that adult child caregiving is usually fraught with conflict, as it often involves a difficult situation where siblings may be inattentive or disagree about a course of action to assist an aging, ill or frail parent.

In Colorado, mediators are not required to be licensed – so it’s an especially good idea to do some background checking about the mediator’s background and experience.  Holding oneself out as an “elder care mediator” is something most anyone could do, so you may want to confirm that a mediator has completed a 40 hour mediation training course (at minimum) and has some experience in elder care or probate disputes.    Here’s a simple roadmap for charting your course with siblings:

  1. What is fair?
  2. Who will decide?
  3. How will we work together?
  4. Don’t underestimate the transformational power of compassion; and
  5. Get help if you need it!

Happy trails!


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