Conflicts related to someone’s estate plan can quickly go from a disagreement to a full-blown family war when parties cannot agree. Emotions can run high; disputes can push relationships past their breaking points; grudges can arise or reemerge.
One way to minimize the development of these complicated situations is to mediate estate-related disputes.
Benefits to consider
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process that requires parties to work together and cooperatively to reach agreements. During mediation, the mediator, who is a neutral third party, will assist by helping participants see other perspectives, keeping conversations balanced and productive, and facilitating settlements.
Because parties work together and have more control over the outcome in mediation, this approach has several benefits:
- It can keep parties from having to go to court
- It is generally quicker and less expensive than litigation
- It can preserve the personal relationships of those involved
With these benefits in mind, mediating a dispute regarding estate planning matters can be an option worth pursuing.
What can we mediate?
Several types of arguments can arise when a loved one passes away. Disagreements can be rooted in emotional responses or personal choices; others are more logistical or mathematical.
For example, some common estate planning and administration issues people tackle in mediation include:
- Concerns about the loved one’s mental condition at the time they made or changed a will
- Disputes over the actions or decisions of an executor or other substitute decision-maker
- Conflicts over the disbursement of gifts
- Disagreements on property valuations
- Decisions on whether to sell, donate or keep specific property
- Arguments over specific clauses in or missing from a will
- Verbal promises or statements
These matters can tear people apart when there is a lack of effective communication that helps them resolve them. People can feel unheard, ignored or mistreated, which is likely not what the decedent would have wanted. Mediation can prevent this.
What if it doesn’t work?
In many cases, mediation is effective at preventing contentious litigation. However, some issues are too complex or controversial to resolve in this less formal setting. If mediation is not effective or possible, a collaborative approach could work. Otherwise, the matter can go to the courts for resolution.
Whichever approach people ultimately take, preparation will be crucial. Understanding how the processes work, what is required of participants and what people can expect as the outcome can be an excellent place to start.