End of Life Decisions

My mother is dying of cancer.

Yes, this is Diana Mercer, founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, Inc., talking.

She’s had cancer for 10 years but has been mercifully symptom-free. But now it’s in her liver and in her lungs.

I got lucky. My parents updated their estate plan 6 months ago, before we understood how soon she’d be leaving us. But we had an interesting issue—my dad wanted to appoint their accountant as the adminstrator of their trust.

I had to use every mediation technique in my mediator’s tool box to self-facilitate that discussion. Our family had a problem with a 3rd party trustee in my grandparents’ estate. It was nothing short of a nightmare.

So why would my dad [essentially] repeat the same mistake?

I gave it a lot of thought. I don’t think it’s easy to save your money all your life for the day you need it for cancer treatments, macular degeneration, and, at some point Assisted Living….and then suddenly it’s time to start spending that money.

There’s no way that was easy. So I decided I had to give him the benefit of the doubt. We’re talking about the decisions he’s making about end of life issues, and considering that he’s just about to lose his wife of 55 years, the last thing he needs is a nagging adult child (and if I enlist my brother, he’d have 2 nagging children).

I did a couple of things that took every mediation and self-control skill in my body to accomplish. First I asked him if I could tell him how I felt. Getting permission is really important. Once he gave me permission, there’s a very good chance he was listening. Permission is key. Then I tried to give him a balanced view. As much as I was hurt that he didn’t want me to be trustee again (I was trustee in the first version), being trustee is also a lot of work. So I explained that while part of me was relieved that I wasn’t going to be trustee, another part of me was hurt that it felt like he didn’t trust me.

“But I do trust you,” he said.

Another mediation technique–giving permission for him to listen without having to do things my way—I responded “When I hear that you want for someone else to be trustee it feels to me like you don’t trust me. I believe you when you say you trust me, but please understand that it doesn’t feel that way.”

More on mediation techniques you can use at home in the next post.

If you’d like to schedule a free consultation with our estate planning expert and mediator, Peter Ballas, please give our office a call at (310) 301-2100.