All About Estates

Navigating Elder Management Part 2: Dispute Prevention

This article is a companion to my previous blog post, Navigating Elder Management: Common Sibling and Stepsibling Disputes. Exploring the source of common disputes in elder management is important. Even more important is to look at strategies that may prevent them in the first place.

A decade ago, the popular press seldom covered news on comprehensive estate planning or the challenges of caring for elderly family members. Wealth managers and other estate planning advisors did not focus on the specific issue of care needs and planning to address those needs, especially in the last decade of life. Today, that has changed, and there are a plethora of articles, seminars and workshops by financial institutions, insurers, and other advisors to educate their clients about the needs of an aging population.

While elderly family members may have an estate plan in place, including updated will(s) and power of attorneys for property and for personal care, the plan often does not include a well-thought-out written plan for managing lifestyle and particularly personal care.

Written Lifestyle and Care Plan as Part of Your Estate Plan

The previous blog explored common causes of disputes where adult children did not understand or agree with their parent’s care wishes. Embedded in your estate plan, it makes good sense to document what lifestyle and care you wish to have at various stages and then put them in a written plan to guide family members and your attorney(s) for personal care.

In addition to a written plan, some advisors encourage their clients to videotape their wishes to provide a clearer understanding of what their client wishes. For those persons who disagree or question a family member’s wishes, a video recording in addition to a written plan may bring more clarity.

Executing the Plan

Having a written plan or strategy is one thing, but executing the strategy can be challenging. Disputes can arise in the execution of even the best plan. In learning how to prevent disputes in execution, there are lessons we can take from the business world. A famous quote from Morris Chang, the Founder & Chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which dominates the global microchip industry, sums it up:

Without a strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.

Let’s assume there is a written lifestyle and care plan in place, and it is part of a comprehensive estate plan for an elderly parent. It was completed when the person was fully capable and based on carefully prepared options discussed with advisors and fully costed as part of the estate plan.

As a family member or the attorney(s) for personal care begin to execute the written plan, arguments begin about issues such as who does what or how much things will cost. Family members start to take sides, and once again, divisions lead to disputes.

Preventing Disputes While Executing

What are some key business strategies on execution that might translate into helping prevent these family disputes?

1. Aim for Commitment to the Written Plan

Well before the family or attorney(s) for personal care need to execute the plan, all the decision-makers and the family members must be aware of the plan. A family discussion with attorneys present is very helpful to discuss the parent’s wishes and how the plan will be implemented. Does everyone agree with the plan? Is there a shared understanding of how things will proceed? Rather than keeping wishes and plans a secret, it can be helpful for everyone to know in advance what the plan is and how to deliver it. It’s also a good time to discuss the role and responsibilities of the attorney(s) for personal care.

2. Consider Communication Protocols

People involved in executing the plan will need to share information and have a forum where they can discuss issues and progress. Lifestyle and care plans will not be written in stone. They will have to change and evolve as needs change. Identifying the forum for discussion of the plan and any changes to it should be identified in advance so everyone knows how information will be shared.

3. Align Tasks to the Plan

In a company setting, people are asked to perform at a certain level with job descriptions that align with the tasks to be done. In each position, there are job settings or spans such as control, accountability, and support. Family members can also use this approach – who is accountable for what in implementing the plan? Who is managing the overall effort? Does one person need more support than someone else?

4. Measure and Monitor Delivery to Plan

It’s helpful if people agree on the key metrics to monitor if you are achieving the goals and the plan. For example, are the elderly parent’s care needs still being met with care support one day per week? Or are needs changing that require more support and additional cost? Are the financial goals being met or becoming too costly, and when is it time to look at alternatives?

While adult siblings and stepsiblings can be an invaluable source of support, they can also be a significant source of stress and anxiety if disagreements emerge. Navigating and managing transitions elderly parents will face—health challenges, lifestyle changes, and more—will be challenging enough without the additional complication of sibling disputes. Anticipating common causes for disputes and looking at ways to prevent disputes can assist advisors and families in planning effectively for the future.

About Susan J. Hyatt
Susan J Hyatt is the Chair & CEO of Silver Sherpa Inc. A leader and author in the ‘smart aging’ movement, she is a member of the Canadian College of Health Leaders and the International Federation on Ageing. She holds a post-graduate certification in Negotiations from Harvard Law School/MIT and an MBA from Griffith University in Australia. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy specializing in critical care/trauma from the University of Toronto.


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