It’s the sort of thing that can ruin a family — heated arguments that turn into life-long grudges.
You’ve probably heard stories of siblings arguing about what’s best for their parent — who should provide care, help out financially, find senior living options, and other scenarios. Regardless of the dispute over elderly parents, sometimes it takes conflict mediation services to resolve the problem.
Acting as neutral guides, professional mediators lead meaningful discussions, mitigate high tensions and emotions, and prompt effective communication and decision-making. There are many types of professional mediators, but elder mediators specialize in conflicts about caring for aging loved ones.
Learn more about the benefits, cost, and how mediation can provide family conflict resolution.
Elder mediation is a private, confidential, and voluntary forum for family decision-making. It’s commonly used to resolve elder disputes outside of the courtroom, according to the American Bar Association (ABA).
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“When people are struggling to do what’s best for Dad or Mom, they may have the shared goal of doing what’s best, but they may very much disagree on what that is,” says Crystal Thorpe, mediator and co-founder of Elder Decisions, an elder mediation firm in Norwood, Massachusetts.
Mediations typically take place in 2-3 hour sessions. Some families need more than one session, while others can reach a resolution in one sitting.
Elder mediators help senior loved ones and relatives come to a mutual understanding about each person’s concerns. Their goal is to give everyone a voice in a safe and constructive environment.
Like divorce mediators who specialize in divorce issues, elder mediators specialize in aging and elder care issues. Many are lawyers or social workers.
Mediators lead discussions in person or via video. “We do find that it’s helpful if families can meet face-to-face,” says Thorpe, who sometimes travels to other states to mediate. However, she’s also conducted mediations through video conference calls when multiple parties are scattered geographically.
Family mediation can be used for:
Thorpe advocates including elderly parents in the process. “If it’s about their life, we want to make sure we include their voice,” she says.
Finding a conflict mediator that every family member is happy with can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.
Thorpe recommends searching for your state or region’s association of mediators. You can also search fo mediators using these national directories:
Many mediators will offer a free in-person or phone consultation to learn about their services.
Questions to ask a potential mediator include:
Private mediation ranges from $100 to $400 an hour or more. Thorpe’s company charges $325-$350 an hour.
Community non-profit programs set up by states may offer free or reduced services by volunteer mediators. Some of these volunteers may be lawyers or social workers trained in mediation. However, keep in mind, these mediators may not be formally trained or experienced in managing elder issues.
Mediation results vary depending on the family and their goals. However, it’s possible that you and relatives could have:
Thorpe says some families request a “formal memorandum of understanding,” which outlines what everyone has agreed to in the mediation. Other families prefer a less formal agreement or a meeting summary.
A written contract can also be produced as part of the process. These are often are formalized by an attorney.
Merritt Whitely is an editor at A Place for Mom. She developed health content for seniors at Hearing Charities of America and the National Hearing Aid Project. She’s also managed multiple print publications, blogs, and social media channels for seniors as the marketing manager at Sertoma, Inc.