Legal advice from Stephen Lawson, Partner specialising in Will Disputes
Q: How would mediation work with a dispute over a Will?
A: The best way to demonstrate how mediation can work in an Inheritance Dispute is to give you an example.
A sister instructed us as her solicitors after her mother died. The mother had survived her husband and had left her estate to her two adult children; our client and her brother.
The siblings weren't close and had lead different lives but both retained a good relationship with their mother and supported her as she grew older and had medical needs.
The brother had been helped financially and was living in a house bought by his parents, and so their mother’s wishes were that her daughter would receive the larger share of her estate.
How an estate is distributed is totally up to the individual, however the brother feared he wouldn't be able to stay in his house as he didn't have the finances to buy his sisters share. The siblings both sought legal advice, and it could have meant a long and expensive court battle if a claim had been made under the Inheritance Act of 1975.
Our suggestion was that mediation would be a better solution. An independent mediator would not decide a case one way or the other, but would help potential litigants resolve a dispute between themselves. Both agreed that this way would ultimately be quicker, less risker and without the expense of a public court trial.
The mediation was quite emotional for the siblings, but only took a day thanks to the skills of the mediator. The result was that the brother could stay in his house, but with a legally enforceable obligation to maintain it and that it would be subject to annual checks. The sister would benefit long term as the house would be a property investment.
Mediation enabled the siblings to bring the dispute between them to an end so that they could both focus on grieving for the loss of their parents.