Trusts and Estates
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What Is Inheritance Dispute Resolution?
Inheritance dispute resolution or inheritance dispute mediation is a particularized form of alternative dispute resolution dedicated to the subject matter of estate settlement and inheritance grievances between heirs and other family members. With the rising costs of litigation in terms of legal fees, expert witness fees, and similar costs that can span for one or more years of litigation, it is no surprise that dispute resolution—and in particular, mediation—is becoming more popular in all fields and subject matters, including trusts and estates litigation.
Inheritance Litigation Exacerbates Family Grief
Often, the differences and disagreements that arise among heirs in the settlement of a common family member's estate escalate and can mount into disputes that are hard to resolve, let alone repair. These matters regard families who are grieving the loss of a loved one with tired, exposed, and emotionally vulnerable spirits. Court proceedings can put salt on those raw wounds and make the situation worse, adding even more resentment and ill will to the volatile equation. Litigation can serve to drive a schism between family members and cause deep and lasting intra-family rifts.
Mediation Is Uniquely Suited to Solving Family Disputes
Mediation is a useful tool in this context because it allows the participants to have the full opportunity to share and vent their concerns and issues, while working in a collaborative model to solve problems in a mutually-beneficial manner. The emphasis is on keeping the family unit intact throughout the mediation process. Alternative dispute resolution likewise serves to blur any differentiation between winners and losers in a litigation context, as the environment works instead to achieve a mutually-beneficial solution. The end goal is to bring everyone to the table to discuss and problem-solve in a manner that reaches a fair and equitable solution for all.
Additionally, this particular type of alternative dispute resolution can bring about ultimate settlements faster than a clogged court docket or busy lawyer's schedule, so that lengthy, inciting, and damaging correspondence and court pleadings are not exchanged between the parties and their counsel for long periods. Granted, alternative dispute resolution is not without costs for the mediator and lawyers who participate. However, the costs pale in comparison to the staggering fees and costs associated with full-blown and protracted litigation. No family member wants to see the lion's share of a loved one's estate consumed in legal costs and fees, rather than paid to a family member as their deceased loved one originally intended.
Addressing Issues Early Is Key to Inheritance Dispute Resolution
The key is to address the issues, concerns, and problems early and sufficiently to every party's satisfaction so that irreparable long-term damage within the family unit is not caused. Many legal professionals who have experience in the area of inheritance dispute resolution attempt to contain court involvement in probate and estate disputes. The reasoning behind this effort is a belief that it is in the clients' best interests to handle and settle inheritance dispute matters as quickly as possible, with the goal of minimizing and capping costs to the extent possible.
In many cases, the emotions and hurt feelings are equally, if not more, entrenched than the actual legal claims or positions of the parties. Matters of principle erode rational, level-headed, logical thought. Before anyone truly realizes what has happened, a dispute may escalate into a legal battle in the courts that is far more expensive than the underlying property rights that comprise the root of the issue.