A recent report by the AARP’s Public Policy Institute, conducted with the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, took a look at the guardianship process for incapacitated adults. The report highlighted innovative practices around the country, including the model guardianship court in Suffolk County, New York.
That program was also featured in a January 3 article by Laura Lane in the Herald Community Newspapers, “The second half: Growing older in Nassau County.” The article explores some of the challenges of the guardianship process and how some counties have grappled with them. As Ms. Lane points out: “Guardianship court often involves family dynamics and interactions that, at times, can turn ugly.” The Suffolk County program includes a mediator available in court.
One family described in the article used the mediator suggested by the administrative judge to help siblings agree on a guardian for their mother after one sibling had alleged that another had exercised undue influence in persuading the mother to change her power of attorney from one sibling to the other. “Mom felt nervous in the courtroom, but once we went into mediation, she was very open, and it was very evident to us how she felt. None of us would have sat in the same room and discussed this without mediation. It would have broken my mother’s heart being in court, hearing her children testify against each other.”
Mediation can help families resolve these sorts of conflicts, before or after court proceedings are begun, helping to prevent or minimize the emotional and financial damage to individuals and to families.