I have seen the best of families become bitter over the tug and pull of personal things and money that someone has left behind.    During trying times, even the best of the best can react to a situation emotionally, without second thoughts about the impact to other family members.    Usually, planning and communicating up front with your family can help alleviate the struggles, but even the best laid plans can go awry…

I have a friend who told me today that it is now three years and one month since the death of her ex-husband and his estate is just now being settled per his wishes – well some of his wishes.    During these three years,  things have been sold that should not have been or they have been “lost” somewhere in time.     The suspicions between family members has strained family relations and now after all the checks have been cut, it looks like the attorneys are the ones that ultimately win.   Their cut of the estate is significant and it has left the family members all staring at each other in sadness and dismay that it ended up this way.

The discord is happening more and more as the older generation leaves behind significant questions, personal items and wealth to an extent not experienced before in our history.    So what is a viable alternative to getting family members to talk about it and come to agreements before attorneys have to step in to “legally” define the grounds of property disposition?        Try working with a mediator – yes, I said a mediator.

I recently sat down for a discussion about this subject with Nancy Wise of Wise Mediation to learn more about how a mediator can help the situation.     I had never met a mediator before, so learning about her process was interesting – and applicable.        Couple of things I learned about mediators:

  1. Everyone has to be willing to come to the table to discuss their opinions and views.
  2. The mediators provide a “safe” environment with a level playing field for the discussion.
  3. The mediator does not tell them how to solve their problem, nor do they take sides.
  4. They provide each side with the opportunity to express themselves fully without interruption.
  5. They help the parties generate options for the resolution – for example:  resolve the situation, live with a bitter family feud that can last for years even generations, or prepare to challenge it in the legal system.

The common sense approach makes sense  and I can see where it would be valuable when settling estate distribution conflicts.     Going through the legal system can be costly and very time consuming.     Hard feelings can last a lifetime.    Going through mediation may be the ticket to helping families cut through the raw emotions, resolve conflicts and honor the memory of the person who has past away.