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Estate Mediation - Can't We All Get Along?

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Mediation-a way of settling disputes before they escalate into litigation-has grown increasingly popular in the trusts and estates field for two reasons. One, it is significantly less expensive for families than going to court, an advantage in today's tough economy; and two, an unprecedented intergenerational transfer of wealth is currently taking place.

Fights over an inheritance are nothing new. Many of them make their way into courtrooms around the country, airing the family dirty laundry for all to see. Lawyers tend to be the only real winners in the end.

Mediation, however, can be a very practical and affordable forum to settle the squabbles before litigation.

The importance and increasing popularity of mediation was the subject of a recent article in The Wall Street Journal titled "If Heirs Are Fighting, Try Mediation." The article is in the form of an interview with prominent lawyer and mediator, William Zabel. As Mr. Zabel points out, not every matter needs to be litigated, but must be decided.

Truth be told, the best way to avoid litigation, or even mediation, is to carefully structure your estate plan from the outset. Likely you know the "players" all too well. For example, which of the in-laws are most likely to become the outlaws? Are there any heirs who may be more likely to lose their inheritance to squandering, divorces, lawsuits and bankruptcies?

As you can see, there is much to consider when constructing your estate plan. Make sure you engage competent legal counsel early in the process. Likely she or he has "seen it all" and can help you skirt the minefields.

For more information, please visit my estate planning website.

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