Adding elder mediation to estate planning

Estate planning tips

By Peter Boys, CAFA The Financial Coach

Estate planning is tricky enough without some of the other issues often associated with aging; the need for care, changing homes, declining mental capacity or the death of a spouse. This is where elder mediation comes in, a specialized form of mediation that goes beyond training and experience to include issues specifically related to the elderly.

Elder mediation recognizes that conflicts often come to the surface as parents age. The simple fact is that decision making in the aging process rarely involves just one issue. Whether it’s an estate planning issue, an elder health care crisis or transitioning of financial control to the next generation, each family has different needs and wants so there is no easy cookie cutter answer.

Most major life changes involve the whole family and the process is as important as the outcome. The services of elder mediators are now being used as a resource by some financial advisors to ensure an effective meeting.

Family meetings can sometimes expose more pain rather than resolve key issues, so if there’s not a professional mediator present to assist the individual members in finding common ground and shared goals, the family could be worse off.

Are there members of your family who believe they weren’t involved enough, feel they weren’t heard properly, or harbor quiet grudges and hurt feelings that others will never know about? Elder mediation can be very helpful in these situations. But, elder mediation is not necessary included in estate planning meetings.

How would you and your family cope when an elder member of your family enters a transition stage? Elder mediation specialists have identified four categories of families that impact how they handle a major elder transition:

• Graceful transitions

The family successfully manages old age and its transitions through targeted planning, effective communication, along with good legal and financial advice. Even as elders experience their inevitable physical decline, family members manage this process with dignity and respect.

• Successful struggles

The family has one or two major issues to work through but comes to a positive outcome with the support of friends, family and advisors.

• Quietly bruised

The family may be unable to move forward with important decisions and are living with situations that can leave an aging parent in peril and increase emotional, financial and safety risks. There is often a sense of discomfort with choices made, and there may be disagreements festering under the surface about care giving, housing or inheritance decisions.

• Litigious

Things have gone from bad to worse. There is either the threat of litigation or actual litigation required to get decisions made. Wounds abound, and relationships are often destroyed forever between some family members.

Canada has growing numbers of aging baby boomers with significant net worth and assets. For example, think of today’s farm land values, real estate in a major city, vacation homes in the USA or lake cottages. Complicating this is blended families, and more parents being cared for by family. This makes the need for advice from legal, financial and mediation experts even greater. Using these resources can help prevent miscommunication, jealousy and greed from destroying families.

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