Ann Arbor Probate Mediation Services
Probate disputes can be among some of the most difficult to resolve. These disagreements typically involve deeply emotional issues such as an older person’s right to make their own decisions, or conflict between family members over an inheritance or management of an estate. Probate disputes frequently involve a financial component, and almost always put deep strain on relationships between the people involved. Litigation in the courts may help parties get a binding decision regarding a financial or legal issue, but it does little to mend relationships. Often, the adversarial nature of litigation does further harm to family relationships. Probate mediation offers a different approach.
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that allows parties to a dispute to resolve their conflict outside of court. The nature of the process is less adversarial and more focused on helping the parties reach a solution that everyone can live with. As such, it offers a better hope of repairing and preserving frayed relationships.
Deciding to Mediate a Probate Dispute
Nearly any matter that can be litigated in a Michigan probate court can be mediated. Among the disputes that can be mediated are:
- Challenges to a will or trust
- Issues regarding a person’s capacity to make a valid estate plan
- Claims of undue influence or financial exploitation
- Issues relating to the administration of a will or trust, such as whether the personal representative or trustee is fulfilling their duties to the beneficiaries
- Whether a senior needs a guardianship or conservatorship, or whether there are alternatives that can preserve both their autonomy and their safety
- Concern over a senior’s ability to drive or live independently
- Disagreement among family members over a senior’s medical care or residential placement
- Disputes between a deceased person’s spouse and children from a prior relationship over the estate
- Disputes over the distribution of an estate
- Creditor claims against a deceased person’s estate
Even when a dispute appears on its face to be about a financial or legal matter (such as whether one sibling is entitled to a greater share of the estate than another) it often has more personal components (such as whether the deceased parent loved and respected both children equally). Probate mediation is not family therapy, but it can help parties in conflict identify and address personal issues underlying their dispute in a way that litigation cannot.
Understanding the Michigan Probate Mediation Process
A probate mediator is a trained, neutral third party who works with parties to facilitate resolution of disputed issues. In Michigan, a certified mediator must have at least 40 hours of specialized dispute resolution training. A mediator is not a judge or arbitrator; he or she does not issue a binding decision. Nor does a mediator side with one party or the other. A mediator listens to the parties’ concerns, helps them frame the issues that need to be resolved, and supports them in generating solutions that are acceptable to all parties. Parties may have attorneys present with them in mediation if they wish.
Although mediators are not required to be attorneys, many mediators are. It can be very helpful to have an attorney who is experienced in litigating probate and elder law matters as a mediator. An experienced probate litigation attorney will have an understanding of the law that applies to your dispute and an awareness of issues that you may not have considered.
Mediation is a private process that takes place on the parties’ timetable. They may decide to try mediating a dispute before resorting to filing a lawsuit, or ask the probate court to refer them for early mediation to see if they can reach resolution before litigation goes too far (and gets too costly). In some cases, it may make sense to wait to mediate until the parties have exchanged discovery, so they have the information they need to reach resolution.
Michigan probate courts encourage parties to resolve their disputes through mediation whenever possible. If and when parties reach an agreement, the mediator puts it in writing and the parties and probate court judge can sign the agreement, giving it the force of a court order.
Benefits of Probate Mediation
One of the primary benefits of probate mediation is that it can help parties resolve contentious issues without destroying their relationship. Mediation also gives parties greater agency and input into the dispute resolution process, which often leads to greater satisfaction with the outcome.
Another advantage of mediation is that it is private, which many people prefer when it comes to disputes around sensitive issues such as capacity, inheritance, or family relationships. And where necessary, parties to mediation can meet separately with the mediator, rather than having to come face to face with one another in court.
In addition, probate mediation is often quicker than litigation, and is typically significantly less costly. This allows parties to a dispute to achieve closure promptly, and leaves them more resources with which to move forward.
Work with an Ann Arbor Probate Mediator and Litigation Attorney
In addition to being a certified Michigan probate mediator, attorney Suzanne R. Fanning is an experienced probate litigator with a deep understanding of the legal and personal issues facing families in probate disputes. As a mediator, she is committed to approaching these matters with both neutrality and compassion.
Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with ample free parking near the office. The firm is only minutes away from the Washtenaw County Courthouse. Suzanne R. Fanning PLLC regularly works with clients in Washtenaw, Wayne, Monroe, Livingston, Genesee and Lenawee Counties and throughout Michigan, as well as clients outside Michigan who need the services of a local attorney.
We invite you to learn more about the firm and our services, and to contact us to discuss how we can help you with your probate mediation needs. We look forward to working with you.