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Family Conflict: 4 ways to Heal a Family and Elevate your Legacy (Part 2 of 3)

When a loved one can no longer live unassisted, it creates a great deal of stress on families. You’re rowing into unchartered territory. When you and your family members focus on increasing communication through conflict, you’ll get an awesome res

This short article is Part 2 of a 3-part series. At the end of this segment you’ll find several really helpful free tools to use right away to help calm and resolve family conflicts over a loved one’s care, or disputes over a will or trust. 

When a loved one can no longer live unassisted, it creates a great deal of stress on families. You’re rowing into unchartered territory. Your family members will no doubt react to the stress in different ways.

Acknowledging this is key to overcoming conflict. The idea that “we get what we focus on” holds very true in conflict situations. If you and your family members decide to come closer together through the conflict, you will.  When you and your family members focus on increasing communication through conflict, you’ll get an awesome result.

Here are two ways to handle the conflicts that arise when an elder family member is ill, infirm, or has died leaving some kind of dispute around the distribution of their estate:

#1 The Family Meeting – Who are the key family members able to contribute in a positive way to the situation to help handle it or resolve it? They need to be a part of this meeting.

Maybe mother is in the early to mid-stages of dementia and she needs help every day. Is there one family member who has been doing the lion’s share? That person needs to be there, along with others who should also be contributing.

Perhaps mom needs to be moved to a place where there is professional assistance. Is that the reality, but no one has wanted to talk about the logistics and the cost? The key players should be at this meeting.

Don’t make the meeting too big. Perhaps just the adult children/siblings. Too many members make for an unproductive meeting.

A family meeting early in the process with frequent follow-ups can be key to heading off big conflicts and hard feelings as an elder’s physical condition deteriorates, and the earlier you call the family meeting, the better. Go in with a short but on-point agenda, like:

  • What do we see as mom’s current condition and what are her needs for care?
  • Who has been spending the most time with her and what do you see that we don’t? (Be sure to acknowledge and thank a family member who has taken on the caretaker role more than others.)
  • What kind of care does mom need now and in the foreseeable future to be as healthy and happy as she can be?
  • What would mom have wanted if she were able to tell us freely?
  • How much would mom’s ultimate care cost and what resources are available?
  • What as a family are we able to do to collectively care for mom?
  • How can we all share in the work to ensure mom’s dignity and legacy remain intact as she lives her final days?
  • What do we need to do ensure that we don’t put all the work onto only one of us?
  • How do we prevent burnout of one of our members?

These are important questions to ask, and the goal is to get agreement on the going-forward plan and division of duties (personal care, overseeing financials, paying mom’s bills, caring for her home and pets, etc.)  Family meetings on a regular basis are a good way to ensure the workload is shared and adjusted as needed, so no one family member feels like they are carrying all of the weight. If the family issues arising after the death of a loved one are on the table, like the distribution of an estate, these are issues to be discussed with great sensitivity. Asking the questions up front about what the deceased elder really cared about and what was the legacy they wanted to leave are important because they get the focus off the individuals remaining and onto the subject of honoring the elder’s wishes.

Of course, those touchy issues of messaging, self-worth, and (oh yes!) entitlement of those who may have been “cut out” must be acknowledged.  Often it’s better to get to a facilitator or mediator right away in these situations.

#2 Short-Term Group Therapy 

In the beginning stages of an elder’s physical decline, family members all experience denial, acceptance, and grief differently. If there are two or three siblings, for example, trying to figure out how to care for their declining parent, a group visit of the siblings to a skilled therapist can work wonders.

That is a place where each family member’s feelings can be expressed in a productive environment. A good therapist can offer coping and relating tools so the group of siblings/family members can best work through the situation in a way that is supportive, not combative.  Therapy at the beginning, middle, and end of an elder member’s crisis is very helpful to keep the family members mentally healthy and drive them closer together rather than apart.

Get your free “Invitation to Heal Our Family” by texting the words HEALMYFAMILY to 44222 to get this helpful resource right away!

Written by Kelly Bennett

Kelly A. Bennett, Esq. is the CEO of Smart Court, a full-service mediation and arbitration firm in Temecula. Ms. Bennett and her partner, Retired Judge Sherrill Ellsworth serve as the area’s only judge-attorney mediation team, helping divorcing couples, businesses and organizations quickly and privately settle their legal disputes. For more information on how you can get your case out of the court and into settlement with the Bennett-Ellsworth team, at a fraction of the cost of traditional court, contact them at: 1-866-403-8690, email: and see the website for valuable information.

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