Navigating contentious probate disputes: The benefits of mediation

In this article, we explore some of the key advantages of mediating Wills, trust and estate disputes.

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While I have no doubt that every dispute resolution solicitor would proclaim their area to be the most “important” or “stressful” for their clients, there is something unique about Wills, trust and estate disputes that, in my opinion, sets them apart. It might involve a client who feels that they have been cheated by a family member they believed they were close to. Or, a long-term spouse, who finds out after their partner’s death, that their partner had been having an affair and that person is now contesting the Will.

Wills, trust and estate disputes can be some of the most challenging legal issues to navigate, both legally and emotionally. At TWM, we have extensive experience in helping clients resolve these disputes effectively. One of the areas that we actively promote, wherever possible, is engaging in early mediation. Mediation offers a practical and often preferable alternative to traditional litigation, providing numerous benefits.

One of the primary difficulties in Wills, trust and estate disputes is obtaining evidence, especially since the main witness – the deceased – can no longer testify. As a result, the evidence is often incomplete and contradictory, or reliant on witnesses recalling facts from many years ago. This often means that neither side can have confidence in the strength of their case.

Mediation allows parties to discuss and consider the available evidence in a less formal setting. It encourages open communication and can facilitate a more thorough exploration of the deceased’s intentions, without the strict evidential requirements of a court. This flexible approach can lead to a better understanding and potentially amicable resolution based on the information available.

Legal fees in Wills, trust and estate disputes can escalate quickly, particularly when cases go to court. Litigation is not only time-consuming, but also expensive, often consuming a significant portion of the estate’s value.

Mediating a dispute early can result in substantial cost savings. By reaching a settlement through mediation, parties can avoid the protracted and costly process of a court trial. This cost-effectiveness is one of the major reasons many choose mediation, preserving more of the estate for the beneficiaries.

Beyond cost savings, settling a dispute early through mediation brings several other significant benefits.

Firstly, it reduces stress. The litigation process can be emotionally draining, particularly in the context of family disputes. I have lost count of the number of times a client has told me that it was only after a claim has settled, that they realised the impact it was having on their mental health and wellbeing. As a client recently said, all the time a case is ongoing, it is “renting space in your head”.

Mediation also offers a more supportive environment, helping to alleviate the emotional burden on all parties involved. It is more relaxed than court, with no need to confront the other side or undergo cross-examination. A good mediator will take the time to listen to the impact the case is having on a client, even if it does not necessarily impact how a case will be decided. For a client, being listened to and feeling validated can be invaluable.

Early settlement also provides certainty, preventing legal battles from dragging on for years and leaving parties in a state of limbo. By resolving the dispute early, individuals can move forward with their lives, with a clear understanding of their future. This certainty allows for better financial and personal planning, contributing to overall well-being. It is, of course, the case that in order to gain this certainty, parties will need to have an open mind on what they are willing to give up during the settlement negotiations, but I am yet to come across a client who regretted settling the claim at mediation.

One of the most compelling advantages of mediation is the ability to achieve tailored outcomes that litigation cannot offer. Court judgments are limited to legal remedies, but mediation allows for creative solutions that address the unique needs and interests of the parties involved.

For example, mediation can facilitate apologies or acknowledgments that are meaningful to the parties but are beyond the scope of what a court can order. Being heard and having one’s situation acknowledged can be immensely valuable in resolving emotional aspects of a dispute. Moreover, parties can agree on specific terms that suit their personal circumstances, such as establishing trusts for future generations or agreeing on the management of family heirlooms. These bespoke solutions can foster a sense of resolution and closure that litigation often fails to provide.

Mediation not only addresses the inherent challenges of evidence collection in probate matters but also offers significant cost savings and allows for earlier settlement. The flexibility and personalised outcomes that mediation provides make it an obvious alternative to traditional litigation.

By choosing mediation, parties can achieve a more satisfactory resolution, preserving relationships and securing a clear path forward. For solicitors and clients alike, mediation represents a practical and humane approach to resolving some of the most emotionally charged disputes.

At TWM, we believe in the power of mediation to resolve Wills, trust and estate disputes effectively and amicably.

If you think you have a potential Wills, trust and estate dispute and want to see how we can help, please contact our specialist Wills, Trust and Estate Disputes team today. Our experienced solicitors are here to guide you through the process and help you find a resolution that respects both the legal and personal aspects of your situation.

At TWM, we are committed to helping you achieve a peaceful and equitable resolution.

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Navigating contentious probate disputes: The benefits of mediation

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