Knowledge Base

Family and Elder Mediation:  Helping Your Family Make The Best Choices By Guiding You Through The Hardest Conversations

February 1, 2012

By Halee D. Burg

Part I:  Common Issues

As parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles age, many issues emerge for families.  Difficult decisions may need to be made; often, the choices are complex and emotional.  Family conversations concerning issues, choices and decisions can be challenging and contentious.  While family members share concern for their elder parent, aunt, uncle, stepparent or grandparent, they do not always share the same ideas as to what is best for the elder or for the family.  They may disagree about where the senior can live safely, who might care for them, the level of support they need, how to manage their finances responsibly, how to transition to a smaller living space, how their estate should be divided, and so on.  Family conflict often erupts at the very time when relatives most need family unity and productive decision-making.

Entrenched family dynamics often re-surface as tensions build.  Decisions may be imposed by some family members or simply not made at all.  Sometimes an unanticipated crisis, such as a hip fracture following a fall, may trigger the need for immediate decisions. With communications already strained, family ties are threatened and productive discussion begins to unravel.

At the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution (CMDR), we help families navigate safely the important conversations they want and need to have.  We encourage families to be proactive and work through issues together before a crisis occurs.  Our skilled and experienced mediators ensure that everyone involved in the conversation has a voice, that families secure the information they need to make good decisions, and that each family member feels that he or she is a part of the decision-making process and can support the decisions that are made.

 Among the most common topics families raise in mediation are:



Part 2:  Frequently Asked Questions


What is mediation?


Family and Elder Mediation is a process in which a trained professional mediator helps families identify and discuss openly issues important to them.  While mediation is informal in nature, it is structured to ensure that all participants have a voice.  With the guidance of the mediator, families explore their needs, what is most important to them, their options, what they need to know to evaluate their options, and which option(s) are optimal to achieving their mutual goals.


My family cannot agree on anything regarding my parents - whether they should stay in their home, how we can help with caregiving for them, what will happen to their personal property if they do move, etc.  Can mediation really help us?


Mediation can help families who are experiencing conflict and are willing to work through issues together.  Because mediation is voluntary, mediation is appropriate when each family member agrees to participate.  Mediation offers each member of your family, including your parents, an opportunity to share his/her ideas and concerns in a confidential setting.  Based on discussions with the family before the mediation begins, the mediator will develop a list of topics to discuss in the mediation session(s).  Through identifying the interests most important to each party, brainstorming and evaluating options to address each issue, and building consensus within the family, decisions can be made concerning the most important issues involving your family members.



How is mediation different from just sitting around the table talking by ourselves?


Mediation provides a neutral, private, confidential and safe space for each participant to identify what is important to him or her and to share the perspectives of other family members regarding each important issue.  The mediator, a skilled and experienced neutral who is familiar with the complexities of family dynamics and elder issues, understands the many ways in which these tableside conversations become derailed, and through the mediation process, keeps the conversations moving and on track.


Where does mediation take place?


Our comfortable and easy-to-access office in Wellesley Hills provides a neutral setting for families.  However, we understand that some families prefer to hold the mediation at an alternate site - a family home, an assisted living facility or other location that works best for the family and elder(s).  We will accommodate whatever works best for your family.


How long does mediation last?


Because the issues in every family are different and the number of people participating in the mediation varies, there is no prescribed period for mediation.  Often, mediations run in two or three hour sessions, and sometimes more than one session is needed to thoroughly address and resolve the issues of concern.  Some families prefer to do one longer session, up to a full day, if there are participants from out of town or there is another reason that makes a longer session more expedient for them.  The mediation process can be tiring, as it requires everyone’s focus and attention for concentrated periods of time, so it is important to consider whether the elder, if participating, can meaningfully participate in a longer session.


Does everyone have a vote?


Mediation works best through building family consensus.  We typically do not use a voting model, which too often represents winning and losing, but rather we utilize a consensus building model which respects everyone’s perspectives and looks to achieve resolutions which will be acceptable to all.


What should I do if I am interested in mediation?


If you are interested in learning more about mediation, please contact us the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution and one of our mediators will be pleased to speak with you about your unique situation.  We are pleased to answer your questions about mediation and its appropriateness for your family.  After discussion, if you would like to move forward, we will gather more information and discuss appropriate scheduling.


We look forward to speaking with you and helping your family work through timely and important issues, understand one another’s perspectives, stay connected, and preserve your important family ties.


Resources on Elders, Aging, and Caregiving


Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org)


Elder Law Answers (www.elderlawanswers.com)


Family Caregiver Handbook – Finding elder care resources in Massachusetts – prepared by the MIT Workplace Center (http://web.mit.edu/workplacecenter/hndbk/)


Lotsa Helping Hands (www.lotsahelpinghands.com)  Free website to organize caregiving help


Resources for Massachusetts Elders (www.800ageinfo.com)


Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents:  C. Berman (2006)


The 36 Hour Day:  A Family Guide to Caring for Persons With Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life, 4th Ed.  Mace, N.L., & Rabins, P.V. (2006)


“Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate?” from the University of Minnesota Extension Service (www.yellowpieplate.umn.edu)


“Face the Facts: Topics to Discuss Now with Your Aging Parents” from the Eldercare Locator (www.n4a.org/files/programs/eldercare-locator/FacetheFactsGuide2003.pdf


The “Four Pillars of Legacy discussion questions from the Allianz Life Insurance Company (https://www.allianzlife.com/MediaCenter/FourPIllars.aspx)



Free in-person or telephone consultations available Literature and fees are available upon request.
To schedule an appointment, please call 781-239-1600 or e-mail us at cmdr@cmdronline.com