Lawsuits are not the only way to resolve disputes, and arguably are not even the best way. Litigation can be financially expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally tolling. Especially in the context of estate, trust and probate litigation, the disputes often involve persons who know each other, including relatives, friends, and business associates. Accordingly, in addition to the expenditure of money, time and emotions, litigation can sometimes involve harm to the relationships between the litigants.
Because of the foregoing concerns, different types of alternative dispute resolution have been developed over the years. One of these methods, in particular, is conducive to the issues arising in inheritance-related disputes. Specifically, mediation generally involves a third party called a "mediator" who is specially trained to attempt to bring the adverse parties to a compromise and settle their differences. Unlike the judge or jury, or an arbitrator, a mediator does not resolve the dispute for the parties but instead aims to facilitate a final resolution that the parties reach on their own. There are many such mediators in Arkansas (e.g., Hamlin Dispute Resolution, ADR, Inc., etc.), and we have successfully used them in the past on behalf of our own clients. A good article in the New York Times this weekend also discusses mediation in the elder law context.
A simple fact is that the death of a loved one is already a stressful experience. If, for example, that person's estate is perceived to not have been distributed in the manner in which that decedent intended (or perhaps in a way in which a would-be recipient originally anticipated it), long-simmering feuds can rise to the surface and minor misunderstandings can erupt into major conflicts. Occasionally it's too late, but the relationships of the persons involved can frequently be maintained, and their disputes ultimately resolved, by mediation. Drawn-out court battles can be avoided or at least minimized, and the money and property in dispute can be preserved instead of exhausted on the litigation process. Mediation is confidential as opposed to occurring in the public eye, can be scheduled by the parties at their convenience rather than subject to the limited openings in a Court's docket, and takes place in a neutral conference room rather than in an often-intimidating courtroom.
Not every dispute is ideal or appropriate for mediation, but it can and should be considered as an alternative method of dispute resolution.
Matt House can be contacted by telephone at 501-372-6555, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, by facsimile at 501-372-6333, or by regular mail at James, Fink & House, P.A., Post Office Box 3585, Little Rock, Arkansas 72203.