The challenges facing families when a parent is suffering from dementia or is not competent to make decisions can place a terrible strain on even the most cohesive families. When families are unable to work together, the guardianship process becomes a legal and financial nightmare. Florida is one of several states that are trying a new approach to this problem.
Caring for a vulnerable parent or spouse can become a huge problem when siblings and relatives are busy doing battle with each other instead of taking care of their family member. In extreme cases, which are more common than you can imagine, the situation escalates until a guardianship procedure is the only solution.
The Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune's article, "Trying mediation to stem family feuds," says that if the dispute reaches a boiling point, the likely result is an adult guardianship process that strips the elder of any legal right to make decisions and puts a relative or professional in full charge of his or her finances, personal life and health care.
The more complicated and deep-seated the family feud, the more likely it is that a probate judge will have to appoint an outsider to act as the elder's guardian.
Florida's probate system can make guardianship matters worse, some say. But Florida's 12th Circuit is one of eight districts trying an experiment with potential to stem the costly and bitter litigation that can happen with guardianship cases. If successful, it could be a guide to help families settle differences without resorting to probate court.
Eldercaring coordination is a conflict resolution plan that brings all of the interested parties to the table to develop a caregiving plan. Modeled on one used successfully in high-conflict divorce cases—parenting coordination—it's two years in the making.
The goal is to save time, money, and headaches, while concentrating on the elder's safety and autonomy. This puts the solution back in the family's hands, with the assistance of the eldercaring coordinator.
Because this is experimental and not court-ordered, family members must volunteer to participate. Plus, since it is unfunded, each participant must pay a portion of the cost, although coordinators may do some work pro bono.
It is still too early to know whether or not this solution will take hold. The eldercare coordinator has a challenge to bring the parties together and to share the costs. It took a long time for divorce mediation to become mainstream; this may similarly take time until it is an established practice.
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