Sunday, March 14, 2010

Estate Planning as a Family Conversation

The NY Times ran a terrific article last week about the value of talking about your estate plan with your family.  Although it may cause some friction at the time, it gives family members a chance to vent, to speak their piece, and it gives parents (or whomever is doing the planning) an opportunity to explain their thinking. 

Many parents leave their estate to be divided equally among their children.  While this is logical, and appears fair on the surface, it may not always be so.  What if Susie has a disability and will never be able to work?  Or what if she needs skilled nursing, while the other kids are fine?  Or what if the parents have been paying for Johnny's rent for the last 20 years?  Maybe they want to leave more to one child than the other in their will. 

Of course, it is natural that conflict will arise.  This brings up old "stuff."  (Remember the Smothers Brothers?  "Mom always liked you best!") 

This is a perfect opportunity for family estate mediation - a chance to sit down together and really understand things from the others' perspectives.  After all, what parents almost always want, more than anything, is to know that their children will keep lines of communication open, and will get along.  Mediation does not gloss over the surface, nor is it family therapy.  It is a facilitated, structured conversation - a chance to do problem solving together.  And it is future-oriented. 

Family members will continue their relationships long after the senior member is no longer here. By facilitating creative problem solving, estate mediation can help ensure that the elders' intentions are understood and carried out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Compassion and Mediation

I am taking a course this weekend from Zoketsu Norman Fisher - one of the authors of the book, Getting to Yes, who is now a Zen Buddhist priest, and a teacher of meditation.  In preparation, I read an article he wrote entitled, "Developing Compassion."  He writes, "to be narrowly self-interested and self-identified is simply a very dangerous and unhappy way to live - the wider your interest and larger your sense of identity, the happier and the stronger you will be."

And this reminds me of words of my mediation teachers, Jack Himmelstein and Gary Friedman, who say that when we mediate, we must be able to hold in our minds the full reality of what each person is saying.  That neutrality is not staying squarely in the middle, but in fully understanding each person, really understanding their perspective.  And being able to hold both realities in your mind at the same time. 

I don't try to find the truth when I mediate.  In a certain way, I don't care about it.  I am not trying to come to my own conclusion about what really happened.  I do, however, care deeply about each person's perspective and perception about what happened.  For that is what is real to them. 

When I practice this, I believe - I hope - I am practicing the development of compassion.