How to Handle Disputes During Probate

Even in a Colorado probate proceeding that seems relatively straightforward, disputes can arise. Sometimes the disputes are strictly legal in nature, such as whether a decedent’s will is valid under Colorado law. Other times, conflicts arise over more nebulous issues, like whether the distribution of assets in a probate proceeding is “fair” or if there was “undue influence” upon the decedent. Whatever the nature of the dispute, it must be resolved before the probate process can be completed. However, resolving a Colorado probate dispute can take a toll on the estate and on its beneficiaries.

The best-known option for resolving a probate dispute is to litigate it in the district or probate court in which the estate is being addressed. This avenue offers some advantages, but because there is often more at stake than the subject matter of the dispute—specifically, the relationship between the parties—it’s worth considering alternatives to litigation, like mediation.

Mediation of Colorado Probate Disputes

Mediation of Colorado probate disputes involves parties sitting down with an experienced, neutral mediator and working to craft a solution to the dispute that would benefit both (or all) parties. Advantages of mediation include increased privacy; unlike court proceedings, mediation is held behind closed doors and the record of the negotiations are not made public. Mediation also offers parties an opportunity to be heard in a way that a court case does not. While litigation considers legal issues, and the facts that support a legal position, the parties’ emotions and stories are not relevant to the determination. In addition, even if you litigate in Colorado, courts often refer the matter and the parties to a mediator before deciding the case, reducing the court’s workload.

By contrast, in mediation, the parties’ stories are important to the process. By understanding the parties’ feelings and experiences, the mediator is better able to understand where they are coming from and to guide them to resolutions that might meet their needs and interests, resulting in a “win-win.” Mediation is often also more cost-effective and quicker than litigation, and gives the parties the freedom to come up with more creative resolutions than a court might.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of mediating probate disputes, however, is the preservation of relationships. Usually, parties to a probate dispute are relatives. A court resolution of the dispute in the favor of one of the parties often sounds the death knell to the relationship between them. Mediation helps the parties understand each other’s point of view, and strives to create a mutually acceptable result, not a winner and a loser. Mediation is a good option for many families, but it’s not right for every family or every situation.

Litigating Probate Disputes

Questions that come up during estate administration are challenging to resolve because the person who executed the will or trust is no longer available to clarify their intentions. Sometimes probate litigation is the best way to address these issues.

Litigation may be preferable to mediation if there is a longstanding family rift which the decedent’s death and subsequent probate matter has exacerbated. Litigation may also be the best dispute resolution option when there is an imbalance of power between parties that makes it difficult to negotiate fairly in mediation. Some families may also simply want the court to decide who is “right,” and be unwilling to negotiate.

No matter what type of probate dispute you are facing, it’s always advisable to bring your concerns to a qualified Colorado probate attorney who can help you understand your rights and options. For experienced advice, contact the experienced estate planning and probate attorneys at Davis Schilken. Call us at 303-670-9855 to arrange a consultation at one of our two locations in The Denver Tech Center and Golden, Colorado. We look forward to working with you.