One option that surviving family members can use to resolve any contested probate/estate administration matters is through Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR. Instead of “lawyering up” and pursuing traditional litigation to resolve their disputes, relatives who are at odds can utilize the methods of ADR to arrive at solutions that are far less costly (and in many ways) more constructive to everyone involved. Originally used as a means to find common ground between litigants in small claims cases, Alternative Dispute Resolution values negotiation over having to file a lawsuit.
In an effort to preserve family cohesion and to protect their assets, ADR brings all interested parties together in an informal/confidential setting. Usually, they are presided either by a retired judge or by a practicing attorney. Once the issues in dispute have been identified, the mediator then asks each party to give reasons why their contentions should be granted. This approach is meant to provide a safe setting for family members to express concerns, ideas, and to work out their own solutions in light of their parent’s wishes. In addition, unlike a courtroom where arguments can be silenced by formal objections, ADR meetings encourage uninterrupted expression from each participant. It is through this process of questioning and answering that mutually agreeable solutions can become a reality.
Any settlements are documented in what is known as a Memorandum of Understanding. All parties sign the accord (which contains all of the ideas and issues discussed, solutions proposed, and a statement of whether or not, and to whom, the memorandum may be released to). This document is a great resource, especially when a family member raises an issue or concern about the family estate in the future (to remind him/her of their full-hearted participation with the meeting). Conferences in Alternative Dispute Resolution are not legally binding. Any interested party will always have the right and privilege to forgo ADR and to pursue formal court proceedings with their claim(s).
We, at Bezaire, Ledwitz & Associates, APC have expert mediators who can assist families in dispute over estate administration matters come to an agreement outside of the context of the courtroom. We have a proven track record of positive outcomes for our clients in a wide range of mediation cases.
Sources: estateplanning.com/How-To-Prepare-Heirs and smartestateplans.com/mediation