How To Handle Family Fights Re Aging Parents

Family Meeting

The Smart Way To Handle Family Fights About Aging Parents

Family conflicts can be so emotional and painful. As parents age, many problems can crop up among adult siblings and sometimes with the elder himself. Many of these problems arise from financial issues and caregiver issues. Who is in charge of the money decisions? Should Dad stop handling the checkbook or the investments? Mom is giving away money she can’t afford to give away. Is the aging parent showing signs of cognitive impairment? How bad is it and how do you know? Is one family member doing all the hard work? People in the family disagree about what to do and the fight is on.

When adult children don’t get along, they usually just avoid each other. That works, sort of. Until the aging parent becomes difficult, infirm or has a crisis. The siblings are then forced to come together to make important decisions. Then, buried resentments, sometimes decades old, rear their ugly heads. A tough situation gets even more difficult.

Here at, we are often approached by an exasperated son or daughter who is fed up with the parent, a sibling or a group of family members who are on the “wrong side” of a dispute. People are polarized. Ugly accusations fly back and forth. Someone threatens to get a lawyer, or they do get one and the situation escalates.There’s No Law Against Making Stupid Decisions Carolyn RosenblattContributor

Is there a way out of these situations that does not involve spending resources on lawyers all too happy to bill for their time to advocate for each party’s position?

There is indeed. However, the concept is somewhat new and most people never think of it.

Mediating Family Disputes

One good way out of these conflicts is through mediation of family disputes. We also call it elder mediation. Here’s a brief video that illustrates the concept.

Most of us have heard of mediation one way or another, but we don’t usually think of it as a way to resolve disputes about aging loved ones or siblings who disagree about Mom or Dad. Instead, we think of it as a way to negotiate a way out of a labor dispute, a business matter or a divorce. Mediation is growing and has application to adult families as well.

When the people involved are willing to sit down together, mediation is an excellent way to work through family conflicts, just as it is to work through conflicts in other settings. Overall, research shows us that the success rate of using mediation to fix a dispute is about 75-80%. Those are pretty good odds. A successful outcome of mediation involves an agreement, which is written down and then becomes enforceable, just as any contract is enforceable.

In our experience as mediators at, we find that the agreements people reach in mediation are not necessarily about one party paying another party money. Sometimes they are about who gets to be in charge of decisions, who will share the tasks of caregiving for an aging loved one, or when the next in line person should take over as the trustee of the family trust. A recurring problem is that family members simply do not know how to talk to one another while remaining respectful, even if they disagree.

Family members resort to “silence or violence”. That is, they may clam up when they get angry and this shuts off communication. Or, they get aggressive, accusatory and end up shouting and name calling, which also shuts off communication. A mediator, who is always a trained, neutral outsider, can help the warring parties avoid silence or violence and learn how to listen to each other’s views. With help, they can reach common ground, share information and work out their differences with guidance through the process. (We’d like to see Congress using mediators!)

The Pros and Cons

Mediation is not therapy and it’s not going to instantly fix your damaged relationships. If you hate your family member, you’re not going to kiss and make up just because you went to mediation.

It costs money. You are usually paying a private mediator by the hour or a flat rate. Savvy mediators can do their work by Skype(TM) or by phone for families scattered across states. That works too, though face to face is an ideal way to do this.

But, mediation can clearly help people in dispute come to agreement on specific issues, and this can restore peace. Seeking peace by this dignified means is definitely worth it. When family fights escalate to lawsuits, no one really wins.

If your family is at war and you think it’s hopeless, please do not give up. If you can get family members to agree to try mediation, do your research to find a trained and experienced elder mediator. Private mediators are on and, as well as in community mediation service organizations.

Stieg Larsson Tragic Legacy Would Not Occur Under BC Estate Laws

Many of us have now heard the story about how the author of the famous trilogy, (” The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”)  suddenly died prior his publication and financial success.

The truly shocking part of the story is that his common-law spouse of 32 years did not inherit his estate, which instead went to his two biological relatives being his father and younger brother.

This would not occur in British Columbia under the provisions of the Estate Administration act under which his entire estate would have gone to his surviving spouse, Ms. Gabrielsson.

This excerpt is taken from a recent  newspaper article on the subject :


“Blood Trumps Love


Gabrielsson and Larsson weren’t just a couple, but also a leftist action group. First they were Maoists and then Trotskyists, voicing their criticism of the Swedish welfare state from a leftist point of view. She was an architect, while he worked for a news agency. They managed to make ends meet, and had no children. Like many Swedes of their generation, they were anti-bourgeois.

In their social circle, while couples may have been monogamous, they didn’t marry. But under Swedish law, a member of an unmarried couple doesn’t inherit anything from his or her deceased partner, no matter how long the couple was together. Blood trumps love, unless a will exists, but Larsson hadn’t written one. For that reason, the rapidly growing proceeds from the sale of the books and the film rights went to two biological relatives, Larsson’s father Erland (his mother Vivianne is dead) and his younger brother Joakim. “The money went to us, but we didn’t ask for it,” says Erland Larsson, 76. They could have turned down the inheritance, but that wasn’t what they wanted.

The father and the brother still live in northern Sweden, in a city called Umea. The father occasionally visited his son in Stockholm and tried to convince him to get married, but the son only laughed at his father’s suggestion. The brothers, Stieg and Joakim, were not close and rarely saw each other.

After Larsson’s death, when his novels suddenly became such a huge success, the widow who isn’t a widow under the law sat down with Erland and Joakim Larsson to discuss what should happen next. An agreement seemed possible. But then attorneys took over the case, and an inheritance war ensued — one in which the Stieg Larsson fan community has participated extensively.

Two camps have since formed in Sweden: the (primarily female) Eva camp, with its own website (, and the (primarily male) Larsson camp (” is actually surprised that the matter has developed into two antagonistic groups.

To it would appear that the supposedly more equitable and modern  socialist state that Sweden purported to have , complete with paternal child care, has an incredible gaping hole in its  estate laws when it comes to the complete lack of inheritance rights by long time common-law spouses.

Thankfully this would no longer occur in British Columbia

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