When families come into conflict over a loved one’s estate, there are multiple approaches for resolving that dispute. Understanding the pros and cons of mediation vs. litigation for estate disputes can help you make an informed choice in your approach to alternative dispute resolution, and can even help you and your family stay out of court altogether.
Mediation vs. Litigation: What’s the Difference
Estate litigation is a contested probate proceeding where personal representatives (formerly known as executors), potential heirs, beneficiaries, and other interested parties ask the Florida probate court to resolve disagreements about the execution of a loved one’s Will or distribution of their estates. Sometimes, the legal and factual issues around Will contests and other estate disputes are complicated, time-consuming, and expensive. In those cases, it may be necessary to ask the Court to resolve those questions. There are also certain steps in the probate process that require a judge to supervise and sign off on the decisions made by the parties.
In contrast, mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where the interested parties come together with the help of a neutral facilitator to negotiate a resolution to their disputes. It is a voluntary process – though probate court judges can, and almost always do, order the parties to attend. It is also confidential, so nothing said during the mediation can be brought to court.
Will Your Estate Dispute Litigation be Referred to Mediation?
It can be easy to think of dispute resolution in terms of mediation vs litigation for estate disputes, but in fact this is not an either-or question. Florida probate judges order mediation in almost every case. While these orders do not require the parties to reach a resolution, they do require the parties to any estate lawsuit to attend mediation. Because your case will be referred to mediation, it is important to understand how mediation works, and why you should take full advantage of the process.
Mediation in Estate Disputes
Mediation can be a highly desirable way to resolve probate disputes for many reasons:
- Increased collaboration and communication between the parties
- Flexibility to craft a desirable outcome
- Control over the details of any resolution
- Quicker resolution to conflict
- Preserving family relationships
Remember that many estate disputes arise between family members. Unfortunately, estate litigation can strain relationships between family members, which may take years to heal. Mediation early in the process can prevent hard feelings and hurt from taking over the litigation process and allowing the case to run out of control. It also saves the legal fees that would be required to go to trial and provides both sides of a dispute a path to create a negotiated settlement taking all risks and factors into account and avoiding the all-or-nothing outcomes that can come from litigation or trial.
Mediation’s flexibility, control, and confidentiality often make it a great way to resolve estate disputes. In many cases, Florida probate judges facing estate distribution disputes will take the most straightforward path. This may mean ordering liquidation of all your loved one’s assets and distributing the resulting funds according to the Will, or the Florida probate laws. However, many assets – including heirlooms and homestead properties – are worth more to the family than their fair market value. In addition, these solutions may ignore the special needs or interests of some parties – such as the limitations on a deceased heir’s ability to accept inheritances without threatening their government benefits. Mediation allows family members to customize a solution to their disputes that addresses each party’s goals and needs, while preserving your loved one’s estate. It also can avoid an outcome where one side of the dispute risks getting nothing.
At Harrison Estate Law, P.A., our experienced estate and probate team can help you consider your options in mediation vs litigation for estate disputes. We will stand beside you through the mediation process, and help you negotiate a solution that helps protect you and your family members. Contact us here or call 352-306-3835 to get help today.