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Should You Hire an ‘Elder Mediator’?

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Recently, I received a copy of a newly published book by Arline Kardasis and three of her partners at Elder Decisions, a mediation and training firm in Norwood, Mass. Entitled “Mom Always Liked You Best,” the book aims—according to its subtitle—to help families resolve “family feuds, inheritance battles and elder care crises.” It is full of tips the authors have gleaned from their years in the burgeoning field of elder mediation.

These days, a growing number of families are hiring elder mediators to help them resolve disputes that relate to the care of older adults or their finances. As an alternative to litigation, mediation can be cheaper. Private mediators generally charge from $150 to $350 an hour and the National Association for Community Mediation, a national network of nonprofit “community mediation” services, charges little to nothing. Moreover, mediation tends to be less damaging to family relationships.

The process can differ from one mediator to the next. For example, some mediators speak privately with each person. Others bring everyone to the same table. Still others do each. Many mediators say it is important to have the elder’s viewpoint represented —either by the elder him- or herself or by a trusted family friend or professional adviser who understands the elder’s viewpoint.

To find a mediator—the field is largely unregulated—ask for referrals from trusted advisers, such as elder-law attorneys. Other sources for mediators include EldercareMediators.com, Mediate.com, and acrnet.org. Make sure the mediator you hire has been trained in both basic and elder mediation. And look for a full-time mediator with at least five years of experience that includes similar cases.

If you want to try your own hand at mediating family disputes, check out “Mom Always Liked You Best.” The book contains chapters on “Family Meetings,” “Including the Elder’s Voice,” and general strategies to use when trying to break an impasse.

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