Most people tend to think of bringing in a mediator for divorce or contract disputes, but do not realize how beneficial it can be during the estate planning process. The potential for family conflict arises in many estate plans, especially large estates and those with family businesses.
Mediators often add substantial value to the estate planning process by helping estate planning lawyers prevent or resolve disputes while mitigating some ethical concerns about representation of multiple parties. Many spouses meet with estate planning attorneys together and enter into joint representation. This can lead to issues if one spouse is not able to speak candidly about issues that will impact the estate plan in front of the other spouse.
The attorney cannot meet separately for ethical reasons under joint representation. Bringing in a mediator alleviates some of those ethical concerns and allows the mediator to meet with all relevant parties individually, including other family members, and put together all the pieces that will provide a clearer picture.
A mediator can be extremely helpful when a family business is involved or when there appear to be issues with any of the intended beneficiaries that may alter how assets should be distributed – such as special needs, addiction issues or spending problems.
When an estate is large enough, intended beneficiaries may retain their own legal counsel to help determine their legal rights and negotiate on their behalf. When this happens, the estate planning process tends to lean towards a more adversarial environment. A mediator helps to clarify everyone’s interests and uncover misunderstandings while providing a more collaborative approach.
Consider adding a mediator to the estate planning process in some of the following scenarios:
- Family business
- Blended families
- Disparity among heirs
- Special assets (one-of-kind assets that cannot or should not be liquidated)
Mediation aids the estate planning process and often results in keeping family disputes private, promotes reconciliation, and affords an opportunity for creative resolutions that may not otherwise occur. For more information, contact Stouffer Legal at 443-470-3599 in the Greater Baltimore area.