In an ideal situation, a person creates an estate plan that clearly addresses the disposition of their assets and goes through the probate process with any issues. But this is not always the case. An individual may have had trouble memorializing their wishes to their family members, or the beneficiaries may have problems with part of the estate plan. This is where mediation can help.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that occurs outside of the courtroom. The mediation session is conducted by a trained and licensed mediator (who is usually a retired judge or attorney). The mediator serves as a discussion facilitator; they help the parties evaluate the situation and explore potential solutions. The goal of the meditation session is to help all of the parties involve to reach a mutually-acceptable agreement. Mediations can happen during the probate process, or they may be court-ordered. A mediator does not have decision-making authority; however, the decision reached in mediation could be legally binding depending on whether it’s court-ordered or part of an ongoing lawsuit.
The Benefits of Mediation in Probate
Mediators work to foster an open, collaborative, and productive dialogue on subjects that can be difficult and emotionally triggering. They are helping the parties arrive at understandings and agreements.
Mediation is helpful in probate disputes because it provides a safe, structured environment in which the parties can discuss their issues. Everyone gets a chance to tell their story and share opinions. Third parties such as financial planners, accountants, or the parties’ attorneys may be invited to the mediation to explain complicated financial, real estate, or legal issues. Everyone gets a chance to contribute to the conversation and listen to what the other parties have to say. It’s a great way to clarify the needs and interests of everyone involved. If the estate is in the probate process, mediation may help settle any challenges to the estate planning documents.
Situations When Mediation Can Help
There are some situations in which mediation can smooth future issues or solve current challenges to the estate plan. Mediation may be a good idea if the estate is large or complex, if family dynamics are heated, or if there’s an apparent conflict of interest. Here are some examples of when mediation can help:
- The estate planning documents were not updated to reflect the individual’s marital status or children at the time of their death
- One of the primary estate assets is a closely held family business
- One of the beneficiaries is a special needs child or family member
- The beneficiaries of the estate challenge the amount or type of funds left to charitable organization(s)
- The estate beneficiaries have significant economic disparities
- The estate beneficiaries do not get along with each other
- There are issues about verbal promises versus what is memorialized in the estate documents
Have Questions About Mediation in Probate? Contact Us
When a person creates an estate plan, there is often a lot at stake, both financially and emotionally. Involving a mediator during the probate process can help resolve issues between the beneficiaries and other interested third parties. If you have additional questions about the benefits of using a mediator, please reach out. You can contact the Brian M. Douglas & Associates team at (770) 933-9009 or via our online contact page.