We understand that families often struggle with complex and difficult issues as parents age. For example, many families find that reaching agreement on living arrangements for elderly family members turns out to be a bigger challenge than they anticipated. These kinds of issues tend to provoke strong feelings, and different family members may have conflicting views on what needs to be done. While family unity is a prized goal, sometimes it can be difficult to achieve without outside assistance. Elder mediation (sometimes called adult family mediation or senior mediation) can help. It provides a structured and effective process that is designed to protect and strengthen the ongoing relationships among family members, as they work together to make important family decisions. 

We welcome your questions about elder mediation. Feel free to contact us, by phone or by e-mail.

  ~John Spiegel, Donna Duquette, and Carolyn Finney

Elder Mediation (Adult Family) Frequently Asked Questions

 What is mediation?

Mediation is a process in which you and other family members talk together, with the guidance of a specially trained facilitator, to figure out your own solutions to family disputes.

What is the goal of elder mediation?

Elder mediation provides a structured and effective process for family members to make important decisions connected with the life of an aging family member. The need for mediation may come about because of changes in a parent’s circumstances, such as financial or safety concerns, death of a spouse, or physical or mental decline. Or perhaps the parents themselves are wanting their adult children to understand their perspective and to make mutual agreements. Families in mediation might address such issues as care-taking arrangements for a parent, residential arrangements, driving, financial planning, inheritance, medical treatment, power of attorney, or guardianship.

Who participates in elder mediation?

The participants in mediation vary from family to family. Possibilities include the parents, adult children, spouses, and grandchildren. Non-family members, such as geriatric care managers, caregivers, attorneys, financial advisors, and family friends, may also participate if the family agrees to their presence. These non-family members can serve as helpful advisors and, where appropriate, as a proxy for a parent who is physically or mentally unable to participate in the mediation. We will help you figure out whose participation is needed to make the process work as effectively as possible.

What if an important family member cannot attend a mediation session?

Sometimes an elderly parent cannot attend the mediation sessions due to health decline. In these cases we will explore with you how to have the parent’s voice and interests heard during the mediation. This might be accomplished by having the mediator visit with the parent, or by having a geriatric care manager, attorney, or family friend attend the mediation session in order to speak on behalf of the parent. Similarly, if other important family members cannot attend due to distance or scheduling, we will look for ways to include their voices in the mediation process, such as by conference calls or video conferencing.

For a mediation to be effective, it is important that all necessary decision-makers participate. If key family members do not want to participate, it may be helpful for us to talk with them individually, to hear their concerns and answer their questions. If they still decline to participate, then you and other family members may still enter mediation to work on communication and other issues that do not require the participation of the absent family members. Alternatively, you might consider coming to our office for coaching on how to communicate and resolve conflicts with family members on your own, outside the mediation process.

What does the mediation process look like?

Elder mediations usually begin with a phone inquiry from one or several family members. We are happy to have short conversations over the phone with multiple family members to answer questions and to talk about the mediation process, and these short initial phone calls are done without charge. If the family decides to go forward with mediation, then usually the mediator will call or meet individually with each family member. These more extended individual discussions are designed to help the family prepare for the joint mediation session, to develop an agenda for the joint session, and to help the mediator better understand the context. Next, the family will meet jointly with the mediator or co-mediators. At this joint meeting, the mediator will encourage all participants to express their goals, to listen fully to each other, and to think creatively as they make decisions about the future.

How much does mediation cost? How long does it take?

The length and cost of elder mediations vary widely. Some families have a single decision that needs to be made, and the mediation involves an initial round of short individual discussions with the mediator, followed by one joint session with all the family members. Other families seek to resolve a series of complex issues and to address longstanding communication difficulties. This may require multiple mediation sessions.

The fee for the mediation is calculated on an hourly basis. Families handle these fees in a variety of ways. Sometimes the parent offers to pay the entire fee out of a desire to promote the family’s future ability to relate well to each other. Sometimes the fee is shared by all the family members, perhaps with an adjustment that takes into account each person’s ability to pay.

Why should we mediate?

In any family “system,” it’s normal to have conflict. Conflict is not necessarily harmful to a family: it depends on how the conflict is handled. An effective and compassionate conflict resolution process can make a lasting contribution to the health of the family relationships.

In this context, mediation offers many important benefits. It provides a setting in which family members can do their best thinking and be fully heard by each other. Mediation encourages creative exploration of a wide range of possible options and helps family members find solutions that are mutually beneficial.

As compared with adversarial legal processes, mediation can save families a tremendous amount of time and money. Unlike court proceedings, mediation is confidential and protects family privacy. And perhaps most important, in mediation the family members themselves make the decisions, instead of handing that power over to a judge who doesn’t know the family.


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