An Open Door
Family disagreements, disputes and feuds
Unscrupulous and/or greedy guardians will find any crack in the crevice to get into our lives and our loved one’s pocketbook; but oftentimes, we’ve unwittingly opened the door and invited them in ourselves, following a family feud. This is the buzz phrase bad guardians like to use – or “family squabble.”
It could start because one family member feels slighted – discovering another will inherit more of the eventual estate. Theft by a family member, usually facilitated by power of attorney theft, is also often a factor. Or maybe one sibling is taking care of Mom and the others think that he/she is taking advantage of her or not treating her properly. Maybe the siblings have never gotten along. Worse, maybe one sibling is actually abusing Mom and she’s in real danger. Sometimes families call an APS-type agency to complain about each other. The problem escalates very quickly and often ends up in court, where the siblings expect the disagreement will be settled by a judge who will hear all sides. Each side may believe they’re clearly right and the other side is completely wrong.
The day you take the matter to court is the day you stand to lose your loved one! Almost without exception, when a family feud is in involved, no matter who is right and who is wrong, the judge will appoint a third-party guardian (guardianship services provider) – regardless of whether advance directives (durable power of attorney, health proxy, wills, trusts, etc.) are in place or not.
The courts are known to be biased against the family. Why? Two basic reasons: While most families love and take care of their elderly or disabled, those who don’t often get press coverage resulting in horrific articles which stick in our memory and eventually create a false impression that family is the largest category of abusers of the elderly. Second, bias is often encouraged by the guardian ad litem and attorneys in the case. They are benefit most monetarily if they can keep the disagreement going which leads to a forced guardianship/conservatorship. The judge will appoint a professional or public guardian, citing the long-standing family dispute as the end that justifies the means. In other words, the ward is punished because his/her family “can’t get along.” And the guardian fans the flames to guarantee that there will be no settlement of the dispute, rationalizing and entrenching his/her function and continued existence.
If you can avoid going to court, you can avoid a forced guardianship or conservatorship. Try every possible means to mediate your dispute and come to terms without outside involvement.
What can happen if you fail to settle the family dispute? You can certainly lose your loved one to strangers who will have absolute right over life and death. Before that happens, your loved one will lose practically all fundamental rights, as well as control of all property – investments, life savings, personal possessions, family treasures – everything. Old family photographs may wind up in the trash can. And that’s not the worst of it: you will lose all input into your loved one’s care and the right to even know of his/her medical condition. You will be powerless to help your loved one if the guardian decides to send him/her to a nursing home. You may even be barred from visiting!
One of our members said it best, “If I would have known the real truth about guardianship, I would have mediated with my brother till the cows came home. But I did not know I had an option….”
We all stand on principle at least once in our lives, but this is a case where doing so may cost everything most precious to you. Weigh the dispute: will the result (guardianship/conservatorship) be worth the terrible price paid to try to “win”?
In the fieriest of battles, communications break down quickly. Once this happens, someone has to be the bigger person. Make it you. Try to put your anger and emotion aside and reach out to your adversary. If there is a relative or a friend (or clergy) whom both sides admire and respect, maybe that person can get in the middle and be the mediator.
*no raising of voices
*no temper or name calling
*one person speaks at a time – without interruption – and then the next person speaks
Remember the person who needs to “win” the argument is your loved one. The person who suffers most if the argument is not reconciled is your loved one.
Try. Try everything. If despite your best effort, a compromise cannot be reached, then go to a professional mediator with the problem. Pay whatever it costs because the cost will be far less than the cost of a guardianship. A guardianship can cost everyone everything.
Mediation can be a leap of faith — two people purposefully crossing a bridge in the darkness and meeting in the middle. Take the leap of faith. Your future may depend on it too.