Disputes I have mediated in this area raise issues of undue influence, elder abuse, will validity, agreements to will, non-testamentary agreements, trusts arising in probate, intestate succession rights, proof of paternity/maternity, validity of a foreign marriage, real estate inheritance, claims of mismanagement of real estate and other trust assets, conditional life estates, community property, waste and self-dealing by the administrator or trustee, accounting, administrator and attorney fees, and various valuation issues.
Some disputes involve complicated property relationships. In one case, a family trust included a variety of property types that were to be divided between siblings and charities, and required valuation and division of commercial real property, little traded securities and business ownership interests, and hotly disputed personal property. This required several sessions over a number of months and a complicated procedure to division, as well as extensive involvement of tax advisors for the parties.
At times, it is helpful to focus the parties on where their interests overlap and develop agreements on the handling of the estate or trust. The claims can be made by people excluded from the will, by dissatisfied family members, by those antagonistic to the administrator, between children and a new spouse from a late-arising relationship with their parent, etc. Similar issues arise in the context of trusts apart from an immediate probate action. Some of these disputes involve family law claims with which I have assisted, although I do not handle any custody issues.
I recognize and work with the strong intra-family emotional elements that often form a substantial part of these cases, and look for creative options to resolve them where appropriate. I do not take on the task of being a family or personal relationship counselor, but rather explore with the parties what they wish to accomplish to respond to the full range of significant issues. At the same time, I remind the participants of what is at stake and the scope of what can be accomplished with a legal resolution, in part to avoid reliving all the family history which may be significant to the emotional underpinnings of the dispute, and also to focus on the future.