Probate law, trust and estate litigation matters are particularly contentious and emotionally-charged, particularly when the dispute involves family members. The grief suffered over the recent loss of a loved one often creates tension among family members, and this tension can give rise to misdirected anger and ultimately a lawsuit. Long-dormant family disputes may resurface after the death of a family member, triggering intra-family conflict. Experienced litigators know that many probate law, trust and estate disputes are actually disputes over family relationships as much as they are disputes over property.
Events Giving Rise to Trust and Estate Disputes
A dispute may arise during course of probate law or trust administration for a variety of reasons. Conflict may occur because of dissatisfaction with the decedent’s estate plan. This frequently happens when an heir is disinherited, or receives a smaller share of the estate than his or her siblings. This also often occurs in second marriage scenarios when the decedent’s children have conflicting interests with a stepparent.
Disputes can arise over the construction and validity of an estate planning document, or over allegations of fraud, coercion or undue influence. Disagreements are also common between beneficiaries of a trust or estate and a fiduciary. Family members may disagree over who should act as the fiduciary, or the beneficiaries may be concerned about financial decisions or investments made by the fiduciary, or other property management issues. If the fiduciary is also a beneficiary of the estate, concerns over potential conflicts of interest, whether real or imagined, can also lead to lengthy and contentious litigation.
Mediation of Trust and Estate Disputes
When an intra-family dispute arises, mediation is often a preferred alternative to litigation. Mediation provides a less formal and more expeditious way of reaching a resolution, and is significantly less expensive than going to trial. Trust and estate litigation is costly, and our goal is to achieve a favorable resolution for our client, with minimal expenditure on attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.
Mediation offers other advantages to traditional litigation. It allows the parties to avoid some of the emotional costs of litigation, since litigation tends to pit one party against another in an adversarial proceeding. In mediation, the parties air their grievances in a private setting, and the confidentiality of the process allows them to openly discuss difficult issues and forge a mutually agreed upon resolution, rather than one which is imposed on them by the court. Because the parties work together to reach a resolution, they are more likely to repair or maintain their relationship, which is of particular importance in family disputes.
Trust and Estate Litigation
Despite the advantages of mediation, there are some disputes that simply cannot be resolved in mediation. An experienced litigator can be key to resolving a dispute. Being prepared for trial is often key to resolving a dispute through mediation or a negotiated settlement on favorable terms. If negotiations fail to bring about a desired result, resort to courts is an acceptable and effective means of dispute resolution.
Contact Us for Estate Planning Assistance
We welcome the opportunity to serve your estate planning, probate, and trust administration needs. Contact The Hawkins Law Firm to schedule a consultation with an experienced trust and estate attorney.