Mediation Case Study
An elderly mother and father lived in their northwest suburban home until the husband died and the mother could no longer take care of herself. The couple had two adult children – Alice and Betty. Alice lives in the area, while Betty moved to Boston for career reasons. The two sisters were close as children, and got along quite well as adults.
Mom moved in to Alice’s house where she lived for eight years until she died. Alice took care of everything for her mom, including, in later years, dressing, feeding and otherwise caring for her bed-ridden mother.
Although Betty called her mother from time to time, she really did not take an active role in her mother’s care.
Alice was named executor in Mom’s will. Also, because of all of the sacrifice that Alice made caring for her Mother, and the fact that Betty was very successful and much wealthier than her sister, Mom’s will left virtually her entire estate to Alice, leaving only a fraction of the estate to Betty. The estate was relatively small with about $50,000 in financial assets and other tangible personal belongings.
Hearing this, Betty was outraged and deeply hurt as she was sure that there must be a mistake as her mother would never have basically left her out of her will. Betty was aware that her Mom had a previous will that was written before her Dad passed which gave her estate to Betty’s father, but that if he were passed, to Alice and Betty in equal shares.
Betty set out to prove that the later will was invalid because, in her opinion, it was written when her mother was no longer competent due to her advanced aging, and that Alice must have coerced her mother into making the new will. Betty contacted two attorneys who both said that invalidating a will requires a long and expensive court action, depositions and testimony from medical professionals who cared for her mother, and other expert opinions. Both attorneys quoted their fees and were ready to take Betty as a client and file the lawsuit. The cost could run well into the tens of thousands of dollars and a case such as this may take over a year to come to trial.
Betty called our offices looking for a third opinion. We agreed with what the other lawyers had told her but offered mediation as an alternative to resolving this dispute. Betty contacted Alice, and the sisters agreed to mediate the matter rather than fight it out in court.
In the mediation meetings, we carefully discussed the needs and interests of both Alice and Betty. Here, Alice was able to explain that she believed that she was entitled to a significant portion of the estate because of the financial sacrifice as well as physical strain that was caused by years of taking care of their mother while Betty pursued her career in Boston. Betty explained that she was deeply hurt as she believed that her mother was telling her that she really didn’t love her by basically leaving her out of the will. Much good discussion was heard by both sisters, and soon it became apparent that a meet-half-way solution made the most sense. Also, the sisters agreed that going forward, their relationship was of great importance as now that the parents were both gone, they had to carry on in a way that their parents would have wanted.
The sisters agreed, during mediation, that Betty could come over and take whatever she wanted from the property that was to be sold at the estate sale. This made Betty especially happy as there were a few items that, although not of great financial value, were of sentimental value to Betty. One of these items was the doll collection that Betty and her mother played with on rainy days – a cherished memory from Betty’s childhood.
Alice also agreed that she would give 10% of the financial assets to Betty’s favorite charity in their mother’s name – a charity that was of great personal interest to both Betty and her Mother.
Betty acknowledged the great sacrifice that Alice made in caring for their mother and that, because of this, Betty was able to stay in Boston and advance her career in a way that would not have been otherwise possible.
The two sisters left the mediation extremely satisfied that they resolved what could have been a costly, stressful, and relationship-ending battle in a more civil, and less expensive manner. They both felt that they had done what was right for them, and what their parents would have wanted them to do.
All of this was resolved in less than three hours of meetings and at a fraction of the cost that they would have paid had one of the first two lawyers recommending court action been retained. Alice and Betty both agreed that their relationship was far too important to risk being destroyed by a court battle and that resolving their issues through mediation is exactly how their mother would have wanted it.
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