The March 2016 AARP Bulletin contains an article called “Inheriting Trouble”:
Inheriting Trouble: For some families, inheriting a house is a harmonious affair. Unfortunately, “we’re seeing disputes a lot more often,” notes New York elder-law attorney Bernard Krooks. “It’s just awful.” The sluggish economy also plays a role, as some financially strapped siblings seek to cash out of a longtime investment. Inevitably, there are arguments over the value of the house and payout terms. Estate planners say the best way to avoid disputes is to have a family discussion while the parents are still alive, to explore everyone’s expectations and desires. The article details the troubles with estate planning and ways to avoid them.
When it comes to the recommended “family discussion” do families think of mediation? They should. The mediation process makes it possible to agree on the kind of specific terms that make shared family properties work over the long haul. Why? Mediation promotes interests rather than entrenched positions. Molly wants her children to be able to use the Lakehouse in October, because Fall is her favorite time of year and she wants to pass a legacy of memory on to her kids. Her brother Jerry, learning this, is far more agreeable to trading with her for using the house in June, since he cares more about using the boat for fishing when the crappies come in. Plus- the summer expenses of operating the cabin are less, and Jerry can afford that better while he looks for another job. Mom and Dad simply assumed that it would be better for them to divide all the time equally among the kids, and now they understand why Molly and Jerry’s needs are different.
Getting to interests required a trained mediator or meeting facilitator to help people ‘Get to Yes,” as the famous negotiation handbook by Ury and Fisher says. Trained mediators can expedite these family conversations, manage emotion, and bring out the best in parties toward the goal of shared values and specific interests. Families come out stronger, communicating better, and looking forward to more years Up North enjoying the things that they value most: nature, sharing meals, good memories, simple down-time with family, and holding hope for the future.
Rachel Monaco-Wilcox is an Attorney and Mediator who specializes in Elder Mediation. She is a frequent public speaker, advocate, and policy analyst regarding issues of the aging. Rachel is also Chair and Assistant Professor of Justice at Mount Mary University.