Inheritance disputes are challenging for everyone involved because there is grief, a lifetime of emotions and often hurt feelings. Yet, they are among people who still want to have a relationship after the dispute has been resolved, even if they are angry. While going up against each other in court often destroys the possibility of reconciliation, mediation gives another outlook. Read how mediating in family conflicts can mend fences, preserve relationships and create better outcomes for everyone.
Why are there so many inheritance disputes?
The number of contested wills has risen dramatically in the UK over the last few years. This is due to multiple factors like increasingly complex family structures with unmarried partners or second or third spouses with children from previous relationships creating a tangle of legitimate claims on a person’s inheritance.
There are many reasons for disputes about inheritance to arise, and determining who should inherit what and how much can be a challenge. For example, it may be that an heir has intentionally been left out of the will, that someone has died without leaving a will at all or that there are stepchildren or cohabiting partners that have not been considered.
If a dispute occurs following the passing of a loved one, it is often tough on everyone involved. Children, spouses, or other family members may feel they have been disadvantaged, and their relationship with the deceased has not been considered in how the inheritance was distributed. Negative feelings of disregard, favouritism and inequality become explosive in a situation where emotions are already heightened.
Imagine a widowed parent passes away without leaving a will, and subsequently, the inheritance is split equally between their two children. Whether one child has been estranged for years without any real relationship with the parent, and the other child was by their side until the end will not be taken into consideration. It is easy to see how conflict can arise between them with the law considering them both equal heirs.
Taking an inheritance dispute to court – high legal costs and damaged family relationships
At the time an inheritance dispute reaches the courtroom, relationships are inevitably damaged. You will be advised to communicate only through your lawyers rather than with each other, and there will have been lines drawn. Even once the dispute is settled, and the inheritance is distributed, the chance of reconciliation is slim. There is a clear winner and loser in every court case, creating resentment and bitterness for the losing party.
How mediation can help in family conflicts
The process of mediation requires families arguing over inheritance to come back to the table to have a constructive conversation. This is not an easy task but becomes achievable with the help and guidance of a professional mediator. Taking this step can help save expensive court battles as well as prevent irreversible damage to family relationships. There are many benefits that make mediation a clear choice.
The first is control of the process, as the conflict parties make all the decisions themselves. The mediator guides this process and ensures a fair settlement is negotiated. In court, the judge makes the final decision, taking all control away from the parties. Even if you are sure that your claim is strong, the court might see it differently and leave you empty-handed.
The second benefit of choosing mediation is cost savings. While there are mediator’s fees to pay, and you may still want to hire a lawyer to accompany you, the costs are substantially lower than those involved in a trial. In addition, if you risk going to court, you could end up winning – or lose everything.
Mediation is also a confidential process. Nothing that is said in mediation may ever be discussed with a third party. However, court proceedings are public, and the decision can be known to everyone. Another benefit of mediation is time. A trial can go on for a long time, being very stressful for everyone involved. During this time, you cannot move on with your life. Mediation is often settled on the day of the session itself or soon after when both parties can agree on a settlement. This allows you to put the conflict behind you and move on.
While it is advisable to choose mediation early on to have fewer legal costs accumulated, it is never too late to come to mediation to discuss a settlement. If you are involved in an inheritance dispute and want to save valuable time, energy and costs, want the proceedings to remain confidential and mend fences rather than burn bridges – mediation should be your choice.