Embracing Alternative Dispute Resolution in Estate Disputes


Estate disputes often involve sensitive issues like a testator’s mental capacity, undue influence, ambiguities in a will, or family maintenance claims. These disputes can cause significant emotional strain and damage relationships. Traditional legal processes to resolve such conflicts are time-consuming and expensive, regardless of the outcome. Recently, there’s been a shift towards using collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods. ADR, including mediation and hybrid methods like “Med-Arb,” offers a more efficient and less adversarial way to resolve disputes. Attempting ADR early can help narrow down the real issues and lead to a confidential resolution, saving time and resources. Given the emotional nature of estate disputes, ADR’s confidentiality makes it a compelling alternative to public court battles.

Methods Of Resolving Disputes


Mediation involves a neutral third party, the mediator, who facilitates communication between disputing parties to help them reach a voluntary agreement. The mediator helps identify issues, explore options, and guide the parties toward a mutually acceptable resolution.


Arbitration requires the parties to present their case to a neutral third party, the arbitrator, who makes a binding decision after evaluating the evidence and arguments. Unlike mediation, arbitration concludes with a legally enforceable decision. While commonly used in disputes related to construction, employment, and business, arbitration is becoming increasingly considered for estate and trust disputes. Estate planning lawyers are now more frequently including arbitration clauses in wills.


Med-Arb is a hybrid process combining mediation and arbitration. Initially, parties attempt to resolve their issues through mediation. If some issues remain unresolved, they proceed to arbitration, where the arbitrator makes a binding decision. The advantage of Med-Arb is that it ensures a resolution, either through mutual agreement or a binding decision by the arbitrator.


Embracing ADR methods such as early estate conferences, mediation, and possibly arbitration or Med-Arb can effectively manage the typically adversarial and costly nature of estate disputes. By opting for these alternative methods, parties can resolve their conflicts in a more expedient, confidential, and less adversarial manner, preserving relationships and reducing the emotional and financial toll of traditional litigation.

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