28 September 2023

Settling probate disputes: How mediation resolves inheritance conflicts

Inheritance disputes are increasing as estates continue to accrue value. The number of estates valued at over £1 million is up by more than a third in just five years, according to HMRC figures.

In line with this, probate disputes are on the rise. This could be attributed to a combination of factors including DIY wills, an ageing population, and a greater awareness of how to challenge inheritance endowments, according to UK Wills, Probate & Trusts Market Report 2022.

Some of the most common clashes come from siblings who contest the allocation of assets. For example, one in four people dispute the inheritance left to them because they feel that someone close to the deceased may have coerced them into changing their will.

But short of pursuing litigation, how can parties resolve disputes in inheritance and probate?

Mediation is successful in 70% of cases

The emotional strain that coping with the death of a loved one or family member creates can be very difficult - especially when disputes over inheritance arise.

Unfortunately, with estates continuing to climb in value, more and more families are contesting assets bequeathed to them in wills, but doing so can have disastrous consequences not only for family relationships but also for the value of the estate itself.

Instead of pursuing immediate litigation, the best course of action is often mediation through a qualified, neutral party. There’s a reason why over 70% of family law disputes are effectively solved through mediation, according to the Family Mediation Council.

Litigation can deplete the value of your assets

Taking legal action can be costly and and drawn-out or especially contentious disputes over inheritance could even lead to the depletion or entire dissolution of an estate.

If the deceased is believed to be at fault, costs can be payable from the estate itself, rather than parties involved in the dispute. This can have life-changing implications for the family and their pool of assets.

Opting for mediation to resolve probate disagreements has a typically very low cost-to-risk ratio, making it one of the most effective ways to resolve simmering conflicts before they boil over.

What is mediation? How can it help resolve conflict?

The process of mediation is when a neutral third party (the mediator) helps the parties involved in a dispute to communicate. The neutrality of the mediator is pivotal as their role is to take the time to understand the perspectives of each side and work towards finding a mutually agreeable resolution.

Mediation is the polar opposite of actively enforcing litigation, which can be  confrontational. Instead, mediation encourages an open dialogue and empowers individuals to actively participate in the decision-making process.

The benefits of mediation in probate disputes

The most impactful benefit of mediation in a probate dispute is the preservation of relationships.

In almost three-quarters of cases, mediation effectively resolves conflicts and avoids the need to pursue litigation against your nearest and dearest.

Often, it isn’t what a family member says that can drive misunderstandings and dig deep rifts - it is what we perceive the underlying intention to be - so mediation can help to clarify and communicate disagreements or concerns.

A mediator qualified to calm conflicts within a family can help to dispel drama and soothe competing egos with a logical, achievable and entirely legal compromise that may not have occurred without their intervention.

This sense of control can lead to greater satisfaction and compliance with the resulting agreement from everyone involved.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a personal dispute among close family members, get in touch with our team of qualified mediators today and take the first step in breaking the cycle.

Katherine Marshall, Wilkin Chapman LLP
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