By 2030 there will be more Americans over the age of 65 than under the age of 16. As we age an increasing number of care concerns arise, such as the ability to live independently. While the number of elderly people facing care concerns is skyrocketing, the family unit is facing new and difficult challenges to its ability to handle these care concerns as a unit. Family members are spread around the country and world like never before. Divorce and substance abuse have also changed family relationships in multiple ways. Let’s face it, family decision making can be challenging without these additional problems.
Modern families are increasingly going to need help coordinating their efforts to take care of elderly parents. Problems begin when families don't coordinate their efforts to help Mom or Dad. Without coordinated planning the care we provide our parents suffers and often the burden of providing it is placed squarely on the shoulders of one sibling (out of necessity or convenience), causing conflict and resentment.
Families need to make sure that they can agree on a plan to take care of an elderly parent, including each person’s role, responsibilities, and obligations. But first they need to know what to do and how to do it. This requires help from professionals in the area of law, finances and health care. While all of these professions provide excellent guidance within their own professional jurisdictions, none are necessarily adept at handling the whole picture. In the case of attorneys, their hourly rates alone can present a deterrent from using them to lead the effort toward a coordinated family resolution. In some instances, attorneys will simply start a court proceeding as a way of forcing people to talk, an approach that isn’t cheap and often has downsides.
Elder law mediation is an inexpensive way for families to get all the needed pieces together to make an informed decision. But the mediators’ role goes beyond coordination. The discussions are often very difficult and emotionally charged. Mediators are experts at helping guide families through these difficult conversations and steering toward a productive outcome.
On Thursday I am making a presentation for the Grosse Pointe Family Center on the role of mediation in elder care planning for families. I am grateful for the opportunity to promote mediation as the modern approach to helping families in our community to make better elder care decisions. If you can’t join me Thursday, the presentation will be available on the Family Center Website soon thereafter.