A court order restricting or removing someone’s rights should only be done as a last resort. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) estimates that there are roughly 1.3 million people and $50 billion in assets under guardianships in the United States (Senate Special Committee Report, 2018). Sadly, due to a lack of resources and education about less restrictive alternatives, guardianships are all too often relied upon, decided hastily, and left unchecked. This can create a cascade of problems, including an increase in elder abuse, more family conflict, and a decline in the mental health of the person in need of support.
A Texas survey found that 40% of the state’s guardianship cases were not in compliance with the law, which further stresses the importance of oversight (Coleman, 2022). As states’ budgetary and political constraints can hinder guardianship reform, Eldercaring Coordination (EC) may provide a possible solution. EC can be used as a pivotal resource to assist the guardianship system by increasing information, furthering inspections, reducing conflict, and lessening the cost for families and courts.
EC is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) program for older adults 60 years and older. It is a form of mediation modeled after the “Parenting Coordination Program.” EC started as a pilot program in Florida in 2016, and so far, has since been implemented in some form in California, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio. In Florida, EC can be invoked by any party at any time. Judges can use EC to get more information regarding a warring family member to find the most amiable and safe solution, especially during guardianship proceedings. Families can also request EC if they are concerned about an older adult’s well-being. The use of EC does not have to be guardianship related. However, EC is often used for guardianships due to the high amount of conflict that they create for all parties involved.
The coordinators that participate in EC are impartial professionals that go through numerous training courses so that they can be a resource for families facing conflict about the care of their older adult. Like mediation, the coordinators inform the parties about their options and work to get all sides to come together and form the best plan of action. Unlike mediation, the coordinators can work with families for up to two years compared to a couple of meetings. Due to the coordinators' training and the extended time with the family, they can also detect and address any concerns involving abuse and report such concerns when appropriate. The coordinators further educate and encourage parties about less restrictive alternatives so that they can be explored when possible. Additionally, EC is cost-effective for families and the court. EC is often cheaper than lawyers because the cost is split between the parties involved and often helps cases move forward more efficiently.