Mediation in a Time of Mourning

Some months after the tragic passing of comedy legend Robin Williams, reports began to emerge that members of his family were becoming embroiled in a legal battle over the distribution of the movie star’s sizable estate. Some news outlets reacted cynically, with the Daily Mail snidely characterizing the dispute as being over ownership of Mr. Williams’ boxer shorts and socks.

Such reactions are common not just in relation to celebrity legal disputes, but to estate litigation in general. There is a tendency to immediately characterize estate litigation in terms of entitled adult children seeking a bigger piece of the pie, or opportunistic late-in-life spouses looking to ‘cash-in’. The reality is that estate litigation is rarely, if ever, primarily about money.

The dispute over Mr. Williams’ estate is a good example of this point, as the primary point of contention in the matter is reportedly over the icon’s personal collectibles and memorabilia, despite the fact that the estate is reportedly valued at $100 million. It is the legacy of the deceased that estate litigants are fighting for, and only rarely is personal financial gain their primary motivation.

It is for this reason that mediation, as a form of dispute resolution, is so uniquely important to estate litigation. While the end result of mediation is usually an agreement as to the distribution of the estate property, the process itself addresses every aspect of the dispute. This includes concerns over what the deceased would truly have wanted, or whether a proposed distribution is fair given the full context of family history.

Estate litigation is a difficult thing for any family or individual to have to go through. Through a mediation process buttressed by high-level advocacy it is possible for not only the distribution of the estate to be settled, but the minds of the litigants as well.

For more information contact David A. Hunter (dah@hdas.com) or Tom Cullen (twc@hdas.com) at 604-584-4677. Mr. Hunter is a partner and Mr. Cullen is an associate in the firm’s Estate & Trust Litigation group.

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David A. Hunter, Partner

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