Whenever there’s more than one adult child involved in the care of an elderly parent, the potential for conflict exists. In most cases, adult siblings can put aside their differences and work together. But in a small number of cases—about 1 percent overall—family members have no interest in reaching accord. Feuding siblings play out long-simmering conflicts in the courtroom, filing motions with no substance, racking up astronomical legal fees, and trying the patience of judges.
The general adversarial nature of our court system often exacerbates these family conflict, validating black-and-white thinking and perpetuating each family member’s view of the “opposing” party as the enemy. Family members often divide themselves into factions, build separate coalitions, and question and disparage everything advocated by any faction to which they do not belong. Ultimately, family members are so busy fighting each other that the well-being of the elder often suffers.
It’s situations like these that have led to the search for new ways to respond. Eldercaring coordination, a court-ordered special mediation approach that has been tested in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Ohio, and Minnesota, is showing promise. Eldercaring coordination provides the court with a humane and dignifying approach when high conflict is an issue, giving the family an opportunity to replace its dysfunction with a support system that promotes the welfare and safety of vulnerable elders as it lays the foundation for more harmonious family interaction in subsequent generations.
Though lawyers and mediators have helped resolve disputes involving aging adults for years, eldercaring coordinators are proving especially adept at resolving emotional disagreements over the care and finances of aging parents. Unlike general mediation where parties usually approach the process willingly, eldercaring coordination is reserved for highly-dysfunctional families who would typically refuse a conventional mediation process. When judges get tired of the petty arguments, they appoint an eldercaring coordinator to work with the family. After the mediation is complete, the caring coordinator reports back to the judge.
Mediation can be especially effective in high-conflict situations because it provides an opportunity for all sides, including the aging adult whenever possible, to talk through the issues, find common ground and find workable solutions to the elder care problems. The process has proven to be very effective in making sure that the dysfunction playing out among the kids doesn’t have a negative impact on the care of the aging parent. It can also facilitate better decisions and healing between family members in ways that court appearances rarely do.
Though the eldercaring coordination program isn’t yet available in many states, it’s just a matter of time before it’s rolled out to more areas. Our imperfect legal system isn’t designed to deal with high-conflict families. Nor is a courtroom the best place to decide how to care for an aging parent.
Perhaps the greatest success in eldercaring coordination occurs when a cognitive shift takes place within the family system as it recognizes that the family’s shared goal of providing dignity and care for the elder is more important than family members’ past unresolved issues. This shift in attitude results in more cooperative behaviors among family members with the perceptual awareness that the family can work as a team, sharing responsibilities however possible.
For some families prone to frequent disagreements about an elderly loved one’s care, working with a Life Care Planning Law Firm may be an option worth exploring, and may even make it possible for a family to bypass eldercaring coordination. The kind of mediation that happens during the Life Care Planning process is a close cousin to the eldercaring coordination process. In a Life Care Planning Law Firm, a team of highly skilled attorneys and elder care coordinators guide families through a planning process that is remarkably effective at inspiring warring factions to unite in support of a common goal.
The end of life is a difficult and complicated time for elders and their families. With programs like eldercaring coordination coming on line, there’s new hope for seniors trapped by their families at war—and the weary legal system that serves them.
Questions about the care of an elderly loved one? Takacs McGinnis may be able to help. Just give us a call at 615.824.2751.