Resolving Estate Disputes – TEDRA
Throughout my years counseling individuals through the resolution of their estate disputes, this question has occurred frequently. As an heir or beneficiary in a disputed estate, it is always recommended to hire an attorney, even if only for an initial analysis of your position in the dispute. This step is not required but given the complex nature of the procedures associated with estate litigation and administration, I urge you to consider obtaining the counsel of an experienced estate attorney.
The next step involves understanding the dispute resolution options offered under RCW 11.96A, the Trust and Estate Dispute Resolution Act (“TEDRA”).
The Washington State Legislature adopted TEDRA to provide trust and estate dispute resolution as alternative means of dispute resolution rather than going to Court. Going to Court involves tremendous amounts of time and money and can often exacerbate family issues. Fortunately, options outside of trial exist and are encouraged through the statute to help save time, money, and protect against the further conflicts by settling conflicts.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Pursuant to TEDRA, parties hold the right to mediation and/or arbitration to settle their trust and estate disputes. In mediation, parties to the dispute discuss their “sides of story” with an impartial, third-party mediator. Once all parties are heard, the mediator attempts to guide the parties towards a settlement agreement. Agreements in mediation are known as TEDRA Agreements (as they derive authority from the TEDRA statute) and can only be reached upon the mutual consent of all parties. Parties to a TEDRA Agreement are free to settle their dispute on terms that vary from the terms of the Will, Trust and Intestate Law. Therefore, mediation provides great flexibility to all parties and can prove an efficient alternative to trial as it saves both sides time and money. Note, however, invoking mediation under TEDRA does not require the disputing parties to settle their dispute – you remain free not to agree and pursue other means of dispute resolution.
When mediation fails and/or all parties consent, or the court so orders, parties may enter arbitration. Arbitration is a trial conducted on less formal terms than trial in court but is still based on the presentation of evidence. Though settlement discussions are always allowed at any point, an arbitration is not intended to produce settlement as is the case with mediation. Written discovery and depositions are allowed, as well as other means of discovery. The arbitrator, unlike the mediator, makes a ruling based upon the evidence presented in favor of one or more of the parties. Arbitration is often preferred given the time and money it saves all parties and its relative flexibility compared to the Court trial process.
When the methods of alternative dispute resolution fail, trial may become necessary. Trials can be long and expensive for all and tend to create additional conflict because the process is naturally adversarial. The statute permits individuals the right to go to trial—however, we work hard to avoid litigation in court because of the time and costs (both economic and personal) involved. Nevertheless, we stand prepared to consult or represent you in all means of dispute resolution, with keen focus on achieving the most efficient and positive result possible based on your objectives.
Questions? Ask Us!
At Beresford Booth, our lawyers hold extensive experience counseling and representing clients in all manner of estate disputes. Please do not hesitate to contact us with questions – we would be pleased to assist you.