By, Sean Tenaglia, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2021
Many guardianship, conservatorship, and elder law cases are uncontested, with a mix of family members, attorneys, and legal professionals working together to ensure the wellbeing of an older individual. However, not all cases are so successful, with many cultivating hostility and tension among family members, eroding relationships, and ignoring the elderly individual’s wishes and needs. When a contentious case ends up in court, family members are pitted against one another and only one side escapes as the “winner.” In reality, everyone—particularly the elderly individual—loses in this scenario.
What if these cases never had to reach such a combative stage in the first place? What if there were an alternative that centered the elderly individual’s needs while fostering collaboration among all interested parties? Well, in a handful of states there is such a solution!
Eldercaring coordination is “an innovative dispute resolution process for high-conflict cases, where a specialized coordinator assists elders, legally authorized decisionmakers, and others who participate […] to resolve family disputes in a manner that respects the elder’s needs for autonomy and safety.” On July 1, 2021, Florida became the first state to enact a statute recognizing this new alternative dispute resolution process. The law, which received bipartisan support and unanimous approval in the state legislature’s committees and subcommittees, came into being following the success of a pilot program that had been implemented in eight Florida judicial districts since 2015. The law also received the AARP’s backing.
The benefits of eldercaring coordination are numerous. For example, the process saves both time and money by avoiding the resource costs that would otherwise be poured into a legal battle in the courts. Eldercaring coordination sessions occur in private, allowing transparency and open discussion among the elderly individual and his or her family members without the tension, blame, and mistrust that often accompany contentious legal appearances. By communicating together with a trained coordination professional, parties also reduce the risk of elder exploitation and better respect the needs and wishes of the elderly individual. For those elders who are able to and want to participate in decisions about their health and finances, eldercaring coordination also helps to avoid the stigma of “incapacitation” that often is associated with legal proceedings for a guardianship or conservatorship.
Of course, there are also limits to the implementation of eldercaring coordination. As of right now, this new alternative dispute resolution process is only available in five states: California, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, and Ohio. Another program is currently pending in Michigan. Thus, Virginia joins the vast majority of states where elderly individuals cannot take advantage of this cooperative opportunity. The lack of availability is likely due, at least in part, to reluctance from the courts and legislatures to try something new. Others may be waiting for an eldercaring coordination law, such as Florida’s, to provide specific statutory authorization for a program in their own states. Attorneys and legal professionals may also be hesitant to accept eldercaring coordination, viewing it with skepticism as an alternative that encroaches on their work and replaces important legal proceedings, such as guardianships. However, eldercaring coordination is designed to work in tandem with other services, and necessary legal matters would still be handled by the courts. In fact, those judges who have seen the program in action “have found it overwhelmingly positive.”
It remains to be seen if and when eldercaring coordination will find broader acceptance on a national scale. Nevertheless, in its limited usage so far, the program has provided a collaborative alternative to the fraught, tense, and unhelpful court battles that often result during contentious elder law cases. At the very least, we owe it to our elderly family members to learn more about the process, which promotes their care and safety while respecting their autonomy as they make important decisions about their health, finances, and lifestyle.
 See Hon. Michelle Morley & Michael Houlberg, Eldercaring Coordination: Alternative Dispute Resolution Focused on Elders, Inst. for the Advancement of the Am. Legal Sys. (Dec. 13, 2019), https://iaals.du.edu/blog/eldercaring-coordination-alternative-dispute-resolution-focused-elders.
 Press Release, Eldercare Coordination, Florida Enacts a Statute on Eldercaring Coordination (July 1, 2021), https://www.eldercaringcoordination.com/headlines.
 Id.; see also Bailey LeFever, Florida Bills Offer an Alternative to Court-Appointed Guardians for Seniors, Tampa Bay Times (Apr. 9, 2021), https://www.tampabay.com/news/2021/04/09/florida-bills-offer-an-alternative-to-court-appointed-guardians-for-seniors/.
 LeFever, supra note 4.
 Emily Gurnon, Could Eldercaring Coordination Be the Answer to Guardianship Problems?, PBS Next Avenue (June 7, 2021), https://www.nextavenue.org/guardianship-problems-eldercaring-coordination/.
 See LeFever, supra note 4.
 What Is Eldercaring Coordination?, Eldercaring Coordination, https://www.eldercaringcoordination.com/about-1 (last visited Sept. 7, 2021).
 Eldercaring Coordination Programs: Program Availability, Eldercaring Coordination, https://www.eldercaringcoordination.com/programs-1/ (last visited Sept. 7, 2021).
 See Gurnon, supra note 6.
 See Morley & Houlberg, supra note 1.
 Gurnon, supra note 6.