Category Archives: estate planning

Moving Forward

Estate disputes often arise because a certain history exists amongst family members. The elephant in the room is how do we deal with years of events, emotions and feelings when dealing with a dispute? In that regard mediation is no different than family law.

To truly create a safe environment for resolving disputes a mediator must skillfully understand and manage from the present and then nudge forward with the issues. This moves parties from looking backwards and then being stuck because of it.  While an estate mediator can allow venting and looping back this cannot sabotage the process and stymie moving forward.  Human relationships are complex and the goal is to unravel that complexity to allow open discussion.

What are some of the things that make parties look backwards?  There may be many things.  Below are a sample of some of them.

  1. A history of poor communication amongst siblings or parents;
  2. Perceived favouritism by one parent toward one or more children;
  3. One or two children caring for an elderly parent and no other siblings;
  4. Unequal division of family gifts;
  5. A lack of family support in the family unit.

The list is not exhaustive.  However it hits on a number of key issues that seem to arise most frequently in estate disputes.

Can you think of ways to deal with these issues?  The mediator must unravel these types of questions in order to get communication flowing.  Depending on mediation style, an estate mediator may reach out prior to the mediation to have a better understanding of these potential issues.  For your part, if you are attending a mediation think about your family dynamics and what may present a roadblock to resolving a family dispute.  It will help you to face these challenges head on.  An experienced estate mediator will make every attempt to use a process so that these types of issues do not create an impasse.  Being aware of this approach ahead of time will help the process move better.

Your final exit will it be smooth or bumpy?

In the last blog we talked about Death Cafes and how they provide an informal setting to discuss the difficult subject of how to approach death. Death is one situation where we really cannot control the outcome. But we can certainly do planning that will provide a road map for our loved ones or friends.

How do you approach that planning? Do you first go to your accountant and/or lawyer and come up with a plan? That is certainly one way to get the ball rolling but what about some of those softer issues. The lawyers and accountants can provide the technical expertise but this may still lead to family riffs. Is it better to talk out these issues with family members in the room? Of course, but communication is not easy for everyone. Without any plan you pretty much guarantee conflict will arise. But putting a plan in place certainly helps to circumvent the chance of family fighting.

A stronger approach to avoid conflict may be to involve those that will most likely be impacted by your estate plan in the planning discussions. An estate mediator can help you with getting started on a process. They understand and know the type of issues that can become contentious. They can help implement a plan that family members can understand and accept while they are in a period of grief. The less surprise the better. So think about your plan first by considering who is most impacted when you die. Get the proper accounting and legal advice but make sure you take the time to discuss your plan with your family and involve them. You may just walk away feeling like you can control your final exit.

Death Cafe

Planning for death is not easy to talk about and when it comes to parents and kids …  well let’s just say that conversation is often left for the back burner. But in the US an informal group has decided to take on the difficult topic by setting up a “Death Café”. The thinking is that it might be easier to talk about planning for death in an informal setting. Anyone is invited to attend and it is an open forum.

Participants of the Death Café can be newcomers who are just trying to deal with estate planning matters or those who have attended before. Topics are picked by attendees and can vary from how to divide up your estate, to dealing with difficult family members to elderly parents. There is no real structure to the conversation but those who attend find it easier to approach difficult issues by knowing others in the room face the same challenges.

Some Death Café participants have been able to encourage family members to attend so that they too can raise issues. The informal setting helps provide a level of comfort to ask questions.

Aging and the issues that go along with it are not for the faint of heart. It is tough to think about downsizing and selling a family home and even more challenging to think about the fact that one day mom, dad or even you may be living in a long term care facility. But the reality is we all have to face these types issues.

Open communication is the best approach to estate planning issues but easier said than done. The Death Café looks like they are on to something allowing for open communication on any estate planning topic in an informal setting. It is definitely a fresh approach to a hard life issue.

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