Why Mediate Inheritance Disputes?

 In Probate

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mediation disputes

Inheritance disputes are tailor made for mediation. I say this from experience and observation. All the 30 or so inheritance mediations I have conducted as mediator have settled. This is a settlement rate higher than normal. And not because of any brilliance of mine! These disputes settle because they are especially suited for mediation. Why?

The first and most important reason is a surprising one. It is that they are always disputes with a high emotional content. Even to begin to understand the emotional angle is to start the process by which there can be movement and therefore settlement.

A party who feels listened to may feel able to let go a bit. The introduction of an independent third party mediator can start that listening process afresh. It can raise new questions and begin to get the parties to imagine different scenarios – in short, a mediator can use the emotional complexities creatively.

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This is dispute resolution by conversation, empathy and imagination – the soft factors which in my experience mediation uses most effectively. Emotional and messy disputes are much more suited to mediation than they are to the precise world of courtroom and judge. The daughter left out of a father’s will because of the ‘vendetta’ against her by her step-mother, the sister battling against an uncaring brother who inherits nothing buts wants a slice of the estate, the deep memories of maternal love withheld – all these can add a particularly bitter animus or hostility to the process. I have observed that in such cases the mediator can be a real force for good. It is when the mediator has worked on the difficult personal and emotional issues, that he or she is better placed to assist the parties on the second important aspect of such disputes.

The second aspect is that there is usually a financial issue, often a quite complex one. Whatever the emotional complexities, or the matters of ‘principle’, most often it comes down to money. The claimant wants a slice of the estate. How should it be valued? What criteria should be used? This is the sort of situation where the flexibility of negotiation can be much more fruitful, and of course much less risky, than trusting to litigation. The mediator can get the parties to play with the numbers, whether over the valuation of life interests, or over what ‘reasonable provision’ means and how it can be financed and so on. There can be the sort of informal discussion that can start to create a settlement that is reasonable and not one-sided.

These two elements – of emotion and financial complexity – make mediation a sensible option to consider. Of course the other reasons for mediation also apply: it is quicker and cheaper than litigation.

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