What is Elder Mediation?

Elder mediation, like elder law, is defined by the client to be served. Elder mediation is the mediation of any dispute that involves elders, the disabled, their families or others in their lives.

Elder disputes often possess traits that may make elder mediation a particularly attractive option for elders and their loved ones. For example, elder disputes routinely involve members of an immediate or extended family, who wish to maintain a long-term relationship. In spite of the current conflict, family members often recognize that litigation may lead to the destruction of close family relationships.  As a result, an alternative to litigation that may help resolve the conflict is particularly attractive.

The successful resolution of family disputes involving elders is much more complex and requires a more creative solution than the “win-lose” principles embodied in traditional litigation. These disputes often involve issues, emotions, and conflicts that may have been underlying family relationships for many years, involving much deeper issues than the parties themselves may understand, such as unspoken and unacknowledged beliefs and feelings. By acknowledging the complex background of a particular family conflict, and providing a forum to address these complex issues, elder mediation offers a more creative way of resolving the issues.

Mediation is less expensive and less time-consuming than litigation. In addition, because disputes regarding the elderly often involve very private personal, family, medical, or financial issues, mediation offers a private dispute resolution alternative to the public disclosure resulting from litigation.

The opinions of the elderly family member often tend to be either disregarded as unrealistic, or overshadowed by the opinions of well-meaning relatives. For this reason, central to the successful practice of elder mediation is the recognition that the elder is the most important participant: his or her voice must be heard, and respected, if the conflict is to be resolved.

Elder mediation is an emerging field, and its potential applications include the guardianship setting. Elder mediation may provide a transformation of the typical guardianship inquiry (the adversarial issue of whether the person is incapacitated and, if so, who should be the guardian), particularly in the context of “limited” guardianships.

Elder mediation is also developing as a preferred method of addressing conflicts relating to individuals with disabilities, particularly as those individuals are increasingly able to play more independent roles in the community.