At the heart of conflict over someone’s estate is a family at odds. Family disputes are particularly emotional and stressful. I’ve unfortunately seen my fair share of families torn apart, first during my time as a divorce lawyer and now as an attorney handling estate planning and estate disputes.
Conflict can easily arise after someone dies and the beneficiaries are left to divide the estate. Whether there’s a lot of money and property or very little, heirs often want their share of whatever is there. Some feel they are entitled to more than others because they took care of the loved one in their last days; or one child was estranged from the parent and had little to no contact with the parent and the beneficiaries believe that child should not get anything. These conflicts are made worse if the person died without a Last Will & Testament. However, even the most carefully drafted Will or Trust can still come under scrutiny and attack
The anger and animosity divides families and causes estrangement, an unfortunate by-product of litigation. However, if the parties agree to mediation, they may be able to not only resolve the conflict but start healing from the rift.
Mediation is when a neutral person, oftentimes a lawyer when it’s a legal matter, talks with both sides of a conflict to work toward a resolution. A neutral can listen to each side of the conflict and then guide them to a resolution that will save litigation costs, end the litigation, control the outcome, and hopefully start restoring broken family relationships.
A common misconception about mediation is that the parties will be in the same room. While that can happen, all the mediations I’ve been part of have had the parties in separate rooms. Seeing someone you believe has wronged you in some way does not generally lend itself to a fruitful mediation in my experience.
Mediation for estate disputes is a preferred way to resolve the conflict when:
- You want to have control over the outcome. If you don’t settle your case and leave it to a judge or jury to decide, you have no idea what the outcome may be. I’ve tried over 75 jury trials, and I can attest to the crazy outcomes of some trials. There is no such thing as a “slam dunk” case. You never know what a judge or jury may do – do you really want to take the risks?
- You want to limit litigation costs. There is no doubt that litigation costs can be extremely high. Depending on several factors, your attorney’s fees alone can cost well over $50,000, and that does not account for other costs such as depositions, subpoena fees, costs for documents, and other necessary items for litigation.
- You want to limit stress. Litigation is stressful, it’s emotional, and it’s time consuming. Imagine having to answer a bunch of questions about very personal details of your life, your finances, and your relationship with the deceased person and others in the litigation. And, how about hearing outrageous accusations about you and the deceased loved one? You will get grilled for hours at a deposition and, if you don’t settle the case, get grilled for hours again at a trial, in front of a bunch of strangers. A trial will open up your family life to the public and dirty laundry will be aired.
- You want to preserve a relationship or hope for reconciliation. Litigation does not help people heal. Things are said and done in the heat of testimony that can’t be unsaid or undone. In estate disputes, the opposing party is family. It may be a brother, sister, or parent – do you really want to say something while angry or stressed that you can’t take back? You can cut a person so deep with your words that there is no healing.
Mediation can happen at any stage of conflict. You can mediate with a neutral person before a lawsuit is ever filed and you can mediate with or without lawyers. *It is always advisable to consult with a lawyer about your legal rights. A mediator cannot give legal advice, only help the parties reach a resolution of a matter, so having your own lawyer to advise you of your rights is advisable.*
As a mediator and attorney, I highly recommend mediation to resolve estate disputes. You don’t have to go through the ugliness of litigation, there is a better way to a resolution and peace.
No representation is made that the quality of legal services to be performed are greater than those performed by other lawyers.