During their lifetimes many people accumulate a wealth of assets that they wish to distribute while they are able to plan and make decisions that fulfill their life’s goals and aspirations and meet their obligations. In addition to family member beneficiaries, arrangements are often made to make their assets available to organizations, foundations and charities or other people/agencies of interest to them. A last will and testament can be coordinated with estate planning, but the difference is that estate planning is done with an estate planning specialist and decisions are implemented during the lifetime of the individual.
An asset distribution plan is of particular interest to individuals who have accumulated significant assets and who are in challenging marriages. Blended marriages, especially when there are adult children from a previous marriage, can present additional challenges when the spouse with the wealth is in their retirement years. Assets, and future access to assets can become a significant source of marital and family conflict. An asset distribution plan that satisfies the interests of all parties removes financial interests as a source of family and marital conflict and can remove a significant obstacle to dealing with substantives issues in family and marital relationships.
In both scenarios, decisions made without full consultation with all parties with interests in the present or future distribution of assets may result in family conflict and do harm to family relationships. On the other hand, upon the passing of the spouse, decisions not made and intentions not known can result in family chaos, with potential legal challenges and vast sums spent on legal costs and taxes. Even good intentions that are not clearly communicated and precisely articulated can intensify family dynamics.
An asset distribution scenario that many families find themselves occurs with the passing of a loved one who leaves no will, an outdated will, or whose elder care expenses are administered by a family member without clear accountability agreements. Family relationships become strained and broken. The disposition of cherished family heirlooms can also sour family relationships even to succeeding generations. Such scenarios, in addition to contested wills can generate healthy incomes for the legal professions and leave significantly less assets to distribute.
The assistance of mediation is called for in the presence of even potential conflict family dynamics. In mediation, we help families sort out their priorities, reach decisions during the estate planning and asset distribution process and resolve disputes during probate. We can work in partnership with other trust and estate professionals as needed. We understand how intergenerational family structure affects the ways families communicate and cope with crises. Family members may have divergent expectations and needs. Concerns about how the family legacy will be passed through succeeding generations may be motivated feelings of recognition, a desire for power and status within the family, or fair treatment by other family members. In mediation, we help our clients see patterns of interactions, synthesize information and focus on their interests.
Mediation can be used to settle a wide range of concerns shared by adult children and other caregivers about the care of an elderly parent or relative. Participating in mediation enables family members to work more effectively together on an ongoing basis and manage financial costs and emotional concerns related to an elder’s care. The types of issues families address in mediation include, living arrangements, environmental interventions, driving privileges, decisions around therapeutic interventions, new marriages, grand-parenting, caregiver issues, family disputes, nursing home decisions, medical decisions, financial issues, issues around religion, plans for rehabilitation, holidays, estate planning and other “end-of-life” decisions, and even family visitation rights. In eldercare mediations, we are committed to creating an inclusive and accommodating process. Understanding that caring for an elderly parent or relative often requires multiple people to share various responsibilities, we encourage all those involved to share their point of view. The success of mediation in this setting is not unlike other areas in that people are more likely to invest in agreements that have been co-authored. We appreciate that differences in geographic location, schedules, health care considerations, and other issues may present challenges. In these circumstances, we consult with family members to make arrangements, such as conferencing by telephone or computer.
If we compare the cost of people prematurely accessing health services, due to the family’s inability to resolve on its own the challenging issues that inevitably arise in caring for the elderly, to the cost of resolving these same issues together in mediation, the cost of mediation is minimal.