In the family mediation line of work, there are ups and downs and a great diversity of opinions. When we are able to resolve complex disputes and see both parties leave with a smile, there is no feeling better than that. This is especially true in family feuds. Knowing that our work can help a family stay together or siblings clear the hurdles for a better relationship in the future is very challenging for our family mediators yet very exhilerating and rewarding.
Like they say “everything can be resolved with negotiation”. In the case of family feuds such as inheritance battles, our experience suggests that the saying is almost true. Mediation has a very high success rate in resolving inheritance battles – almost a 100%. In the hands of a trained professional mediator, family disputes are often easy to settle. This begs the question – why is mediation is so well-suited to inheritance disputes? A few reasons come to mind.
- The emotional aspect: There is always an emotion involved in a dispute. But this is magnified and prominent in the case of inheritance battles. Each party has a history with the will-maker and the emotional nature of the dispute can make it challenging for parties to discuss the matter with each other.
However, when a mediator steps in, the dynamics of the situation changes dramatically. Mediators listen to the stories and the feelings. Feelings have an interesting way of increasing in clarity and aligning more with logic as one talk about it. As parties talk about their feelings, they often become more willing to let go.
Mediators use empathy and imagination to try and resolve the negative feelings that can make negotiation difficult. Mediators almost play the part of a pseudo-therapist (though they usually don’t give out personal advice) to bring all parties at ease with their emotions and feelings towards to the other party. The mediators’ ability to apply their imagination and conversational skills to the issue ensures that the emotional issues are first understood and animosity set aside before the negotiation proceeds to the next phase.
- Getting Rid of Assumptions: Often, parties have discussed some of their feelings with each other, perhaps not in the best settings. There are often deep misunderstandings based on unconfirmed assumptions. For example, a sibling may nurture this feeling that the will did not include a certain asset for them because the parent loved the other sibling more. Each party reads into the motivations behind the will’s clauses and often makes their own distorted conclusions which they then take for a fact over time. Restarting the conversation ensures that such assumptions are set aside and the conversation is around facts.
- The Financial Aspect: Finally, all inheritance battles are rooted in money-matters. Someone wants a bigger slice of the estate. Confusion is often a result of how parties interpret clauses that are not clearly defined. For example the will might mention “educational assistance” but not specify whether it’s for one child or all, or if it’s for college or private schooling, Etc.
Discussing the confusing parts of a will can be the starting point of a settlement. Placing their thoughts on the table is a fantastic feeling for both parties and it’s often amazing to see how they quickly arrive at a financial settlement, sometimes of their own accord. The financial piece can fall together much more easily in front of a mediator because both parties tend to be a lot more reasonable in a professional third-party’s presence.
Mediation means that both parties want to settle and are being imaginative, with the assistance of a mediator, to come to a win-win settlement. The process can be tricky and requires the mediator to address emotional issues carefully. But it’s far better than the court where emotions are almost always withheld, leading to a win/loss situation. Courts are particularly ill-equipped for family feuds and mediation is the clear answer in our experience.