End of Life Issues: How Mediators Help Families Settle Disputes

A brother sued his sister over the accounting of assets when the sister held the power of attorney for their mother as her health was failing. After a four-hour mediation, the case was settled and the siblings were on speaking terms again. Sound familiar?  Similar situation in your family?  Mediation is more frequently being used for disputes about estates, trusts, and other end-of-life issues. This article is the first in a series that will focus on how mediation can help keep families from going through an expensive and challenging litigation process for such emotionally charged issues.  We will also review situations where litigation may be the best alternative. In August 2016, the book Mediation for Estate Planners: Managing Family Conflict was released by the American Bar Association. I wrote the chapter “A Mediator’s Perspective: Situations Mediators May Face”. This blog series will feature some of the salient points in this book.

Why Do Estates Become Contested?

Estate and trust disputes are as varied as the families who are involved in them. These situations are extremely emotionally charged, as the dispute may involve disinherited children, sibling rivalries, contentious relationships, or blended families with second or third marriages. Another situation that is becoming increasingly common and often the cause of disputes is when an adult child or other family member becomes the caregiver for a parent and takes over responsibility for the parent’s finances.

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Conquering Conflict During the Holidays

The holidays are approaching, and many of us encounter some level of anxiety during these two months. Family conflicts occur because typically your family knows which buttons to push and which topics to broach to cause an argument. Nearly every family has at least one person who likes to stir the pot in this way. According to Chris Logan, a senior lecturer in psychology at Southern Methodist University, we all have a tendency to focus on small differences between ourselves and family members as well as focus on past hurts or negative memories. This makes the holidays difficult, as unconsciously focusing on past hurts or differences between us may lead to passive-aggressive behavior, annoyance, or a sense of dissatisfaction. In this post, we’ll explore some strategies for dealing with family conflicts this holiday season.

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Fraught Family Fortunes: Reasoning with Relatives in the Workplace‏


Most literature regarding “family and the workplace” refers to the difficulties of balancing time and energy between our family role at home and our employee role at work. But what about when our family role follows us to the office? There are many ways that you might find yourself employed above, below, or alongside a family member in your professional environment. It can be convenient, helpful, and gratifying; it can also add new dimensions to workplace conflict. This newsletter is about some of the challenges of working with family, and how to confront them.

Last week newspapers were smattered with headlines covering the infamous Rupert Murdoch as he made his son the chief executive of 21st Century Fox. Among the chatter was this New York Times piece buzzing about the delicate and fraught process of handing down a dynasty the likes of Murdoch’s media empire within a family. This is a very high-profile example of family in the workplace (I’m guessing most readers don’t have their own  New York Times beat page, nor do most of our family conflicts involve $75 billion enterprises), but it made me consider how often our personal and professional realms do mix and mingle, and how rarely the unique difficulties of this alchemy are really addressed. [Read more…]

Taxi taxi! The intersection of conflict, peace, and shared humanity, please

This post came to me on the fly. It’s not a formal message, focused on business or legal matters. Instead, this piece in the New York Times snapped my attention to the very informal, daily grind of human interactions that color our lives. We deal with tension, emotions, and conflict all day every day in a wide variety of scenarios. And though we might tend to emphasize those decisive institutional environs – the workplace, the family, an organization – a significant portion of our lives passes during the micro-exchanges of all the in-betweens: on the way to work, in line for coffee, dropping a child off at school. These moments are connective fabrics in our lives, and they are as real and as important as those contexts that we are more conditioned to think of as decisive for our career, or for our future. In them we live out our habits, our values, our hopes, and our expectations for how the people in our worlds should live amongst one another. Your opportunity to foster a culture of peace today might appear in the grocery line, or in a cab. [Read more…]

Holiday Post: The Hyperstress of Relaxation

Newsletter Edition: December 2014

The holidays are upon us, those blissful few weeks of tradition and cheer, vacation time, family gatherings – and, according to surveys by the American Psychological Association, boatloads of stress. I want to share how conflict resolution theory and practice can help us deal with the troublesome side of this season. If you’re trolling around the Internet looking for holiday gifts or recipes, you’re likely to bump into troves of gimmicks referring to “holiday stress” (“stress free” holiday recipes, gifts schemes that are sure to help you relax!) It’s become such a trope of American Christmas culture that the Huffington Post has an entire blog post category devoted to it. Insights from conflict resolution and mediation shed light on how it is we end up so stressed as the year draws to a close, and to find some richer, more thoughtful strategies for avoiding conflict and managing hyperstress during the holidays.

Insight on Stress: What’s at the root?

Insight mediation is a mediation strategy that emphasizes reflection and digging into the root source of a conflict or problem. Sometimes taking notice of where an issue originates can completely change our perspective. By putting some mental distance between the strong emotions we are experiencing and their underlying causes, we may avoid misplaced, displaced, and overblown conflicts (which I wrote about last year at this same time). Below are some possible places to look for the instigators of holiday hyperstress.  [Read more…]