As an estate planner, I get calls often from disgruntled beneficiaries, concerned parents, frustrated Trustees, or distrustful siblings. Death and money don’t always bring out the best in families. But despite countless books, movies and television shows, rushing to court isn’t always (maybe ever) the best idea for families facing conflict.
Litigation, after all, is designed to create “winners” and “losers,” but family disputes are seldom winner-take-all scenarios. Worse, the very adversarial nature of litigation can fracture and disrupt family relationships to the point that after the dispute is over, those relationships may be lost, forever. And finally, litigation is both expensive (think six figures to go to trial) and public (think family secrets filed as public documents).
Mediation, a process in which the parties themselves can negotiate an agreement to a family dispute, is a real alternative to litigation for trust and estates conflicts, but not one that many people know about. Yet. (I aim to change that.)