By Richard Pidgeon

Do you need a neutral forum to reach decisions on the care of an elderly person?

Background

Caring for an ageing parent or grandparent can bring up emotions from the past. Disputes can stem from deep issues of sibling rivalry or role allocation or role assumption from earlier in life. It can be an incredibly stressful and frustrating time dealing with a dispute about an elderly spouse, parent or loved one. With Elder Mediation objectivity is key and a trained professional mediator can make all the difference. Whether it is a dispute over healthcare needs of the parent, living arrangements, financial decisions, grandparents bringing up grandchildren, end-of-life care, asset protection, family communication or inheritance issues, Elder Mediation is a viable option.

A vulnerable older adult might be at the heart of the dispute or sometimes the mediation is called to reduce the elder family member’s vulnerability. Elder Mediation is facilitative and collaborative and a mediator helps the parties address complex care issues for the loved one. Parties with poor communication skills have been pleasantly surprised at how effective conversations have been with the help of a trained mediator, with positive outcomes for the elderly family member at the centre of consideration.

Is Elder Mediation right for you?

Elder Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution which deals with elder law or age-related issues.

Elder Mediation is just as effective when parties are in turmoil and litigation is possible, or if things are well short of that and relationships need to be preserved. Elder Mediation might be just right for the situation. The mediation occurs in a safe, trusting and confidential environment. The goal of Elder Mediation is to reach a mutually agreeable situation between the family members.

The mediator will not take sides but will facilitate respectful discussions between the family members in order to identify the issues and help work towards a mutually agreeable solution. In an emotionally charged dispute, a mediator can be just what is needed to defuse the tension. Mediators do not take sides and do not force an outcome on people which they do not want. Elder Mediation can also help the elderly person retain autonomy about making choices for their life.

What causes family members to argue and disagree?

The need to make many different decisions causes siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren to disagree among themselves and even with their loved ones. Disputes might be over how to divide responsibilities, who will take over primary care and how to support and provide the best care for loved ones. On many occasions one person may take the burden of care and this may cause resentment amongst other family members. Family dynamics may become more entrenched and complicated as loved ones age, from a geographic, financial and family structure perspective.

Family members have their own nuclear families to care for, and caring for elderly parents or grandparents may bring simmering disputes to the surface. These may make family conversations difficult.

Why you should consider Elder Mediation

When attempting to decide complex issues of elder law, Elder Mediation can be just what is required for several reasons:

  • Cost effective: the process is far less costly than litigation and in most occasions using a lawyer is not necessary.
  • Bespoke: the time, venue and procedure can be designed to suit all parties. Tailored solutions can be reached. Non-legal issues and grievances can be aired and addressed. Mediators understand that not all people experience decreased mental capacity as they age and the older family member’s involvement in the Elder Mediation can alter accordingly and indeed the fullest accommodation to include participation is encouraged.
  • Privacy: unlike most court proceedings, the process is entirely confidential. Parties’ private information is protected from the public.
  • Less intrusive: mediation is voluntary. Win-win solutions are the focus. The parties negotiate the terms of the outcome with the mediator’s professional guidance. The process may lead to better communication and parties understanding each other’s points of view, which is vital especially where parties are family members and a continuing relationship is necessary and desired.
  • Time-saving: where decisions are often needed in a time sensitive way, Elder Mediation is capable of providing an outcome which is far quicker than other dispute resolution methods.

Elder Mediation can be a neutral forum for discussions about an elderly person’s needs, capabilities and best interests. An enduring power of attorney may need to be granted or personal care and welfare guardian orders or property management orders sought. Decisions of an existing guardian may be controversial but explicable. The simple issues of a senior continuing to drive or manage his or her banking and bill-paying may be a source of contention. These issues may loom large as a symbolic matter for the older adult, often in combination with or as a gateway to other issues. Emotions may get in the way of rational discussion. A trained mediator can be extremely helpful in these situations.

In all things, mediators are trained to recognise and support the older adult’s desire for independence, respect and control over their life. However, there may be situations where the older adult’s involvement in the Elder Mediation will be proportionate to his or her capacity to participate and capacity in medical terms.

Getting started with Elder Mediation

Who the first contact is from is not as important as to who takes part in the Elder Mediation. All stakeholders should be invited to take part, and decision-makers should all be present.

First, consider who has an interest in the matter, such as partner, children, grandchildren and siblings. These are referred to as the stakeholders. The discussions are largely inter-generational. The mediator will ensure the ageing person’s voice and preferences are heard. This begins with the mediator having a conversation with each of the participants in order to clarify and understand the issues to be discussed and resolved.

The next step is to meet together with the mediator in a family conference to discuss the issues and concerns and to work to a resolution to everybody’s satisfaction. It is common for more than one meeting to be needed and the mediator will work with the family to organise this.

During the meetings the mediator may speak to all parties together or go to speak with individuals and shuttle back to the main group. All discussions will be kept confidential. The goal is to create a safe and trusting environment for arriving at a mutually satisfactory solution.

Once a viable solution is reached, the mediator may assist the parties to document the agreed outcomes in the form of a Settlement Agreement or plan.

Elder Mediation strives to maintain the trusting relationships of participants and provides skilled and impartial mediators who listen and guide parties to lasting resolutions. Each party has time to present their side and listen to the other party and the Elder Mediation is not subject to court rosters. Collaboration, speed, efficiency, privacy and cost-effectiveness are all hallmarks of the process.

If you have any queries or you would like to commence Elder Mediation, please contact our Elder Mediation team on 0508 FDR Centre (0508 337 236) or email casemanager@fdrc.co.nz.

www.fdrc.co.nz

 

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