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What ADR methods can resolve beneficiary disputes?

Even when the terms of a will or trust are very clear, disputes can arise between you and the other beneficiaries. Emotions already run high following the death of a loved one, and you or other family members may feel hurt by the bequest of an item to which you feel an emotional attachment.

Litigating the matter could drive an even bigger wedge between you and your family members. Fortunately, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is available as an alternative to going to court. ADR offers many benefits. To name only a few examples, you may reach a resolution in less time, and the process takes place in a less formal setting and at less expense than going to court. Two types of ADR may be particularly appropriate for resolving a beneficiary dispute: arbitration and mediation.


According to California Courts, arbitration may be a good option if you want to avoid the formality of a trial but would still like an uninvolved third party to make a decision on the matter. An arbitrator is a neutral party who issues a decision after hearing evidence and arguments from both sides, similar to a court proceeding. If the arbitration is binding, it means that you agree from the outset to accept the arbitrator’s decision as final. Arbitration can also be nonbinding.


If you are in dispute with family members with whom you would like to maintain a relationship, mediation may be preferable to arbitration. Mediation also involves a neutral third party, but the role of a mediator is different from that of an arbitrator. The mediator’s role is to facilitate communication between you and the other party or parties so that you can reach your own resolution. Mediation helps to de-escalate a situation that has become overly emotional and gives you and the other disputant(s) more control over the outcome.