Bereavement is emotionally and physically draining for all those affected. Everyone knows it can be a tough time for family and loved ones. Many people find solace in pulling together and supporting each other through a difficult period. However, what many mourners are not prepared for is the potential acrimony resulting from disputes over the estate left by someone one who has died.
Inheritance disputes are more common than you might think. Legacy agreements, misplaced loyalties, verbal or “gentleman’s” agreements, failure to prepare legal documents and changes in circumstances, are just a few scenarios that can have a major impact on inheritance claims.
The legal stuff
As the classic saying goes, nothing is certain except death and taxes. The standard rate of 40% Inheritance Tax is generally payable on any estate (property, money and possessions) valued over £325,000. Once all debts and taxes have been settled, the rest of the estate can be distributed:
- by a will
- by the law (if no will exists)
The government provide detailed guidance on what to do if no will exists. As you might anticipate, the probate process associated with this can be lengthy and costly. Even where a will does exist, disagreements about who is entitled what, often still occur.
The complexities of inheritance disputes
Disputes over wills or how estate proceeds should be distributed, often originate from matters of principle rather than legality. In this day and age the nuclear family is rarely the norm, so on top of already strong emotions, there are the added complexities of different personalities, varying perspectives and family history to consider. Conflict of this kind, could – and very often does – end up in court.
Litigation in these cases can be particularly distressing. The emotional investment of the individuals involved heightens moods, frays tempers and can have lasting ramifications to family relationships. Additionally, it is worth remembering that the cost of a court case often has to be settled from the estate and therefore greatly diminishes its value.
Proven to be more effect and growing in popularity is mediation. A proven method of ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), mediation is a realistic alternative to court when settling inheritance disputes.
Is mediation really a solution?
There is extensive research and an expanse of case studies showcasing the effectiveness of mediation in these type of disputes. We have previously talked about the overarching benefits of mediation and believe they are particularly prevalent in this type of case. Here’s a recap of why we believe this to be true.
- In mediation, every point of view is considered and every person involved has the opportunity to air their views.
- A decision cannot be imposed on you, it must be reached by mutual agreement. This means that every party will walk away with an outcome they are happy with, or – in the very least – one they have agreed to.
- Both of these points mean mediation is far more conciliatory than a confrontational courtroom scenario. It is possible that mediation may even help salvage broken relationships.
- Mediation is quicker than court. Not only does this reduce the ongoing stress and strain, it reduces the amount of time you will spend finding a resolution.
- Finally, the cost. Mediation is proven to be far cheaper than court proceedings, effectively leaving more of the estate intact for the beneficiaries.
What to do first if you choose mediation
If you decide to use mediation, we recommend using an experienced mediator who is well versed in dealing with the highly sensitive and emotional nature of inheritance disputes. For those who are suffering the trauma of bereavement, being involved in a contentious family dispute can be too much to bear. Why add the trauma of court when it can resolved quickly through mediation? Get in touch if you need any help finding a suitable mediator.