Love, Inheritance, Conflict – and Mediation?

On Sunday, July 3, 2o11, the New York Times ran an article by John Leland titled “Love and Inheritance: A Family Feud.” In it, he details the travails of 93 year old Celeste Holm, movie star of bygone days, and her family. She and her 48 year old husband are pictured in the Central Park West apartment where she has lived since 1953,  which is now “at the center of a bitter family battle that has poisoned her relationships with her two sons and exhausted all her other assets, including the trust fund that was supposed to pay her living expenses.”  This battle is described as one that looks different to every participant in the dispute: does the husband covet his wife’s fortune? do the sons covet an inheritance? is Ms. Holm simply trying to lead an independent life and is she still competent to do so?

Sadly, this family dispute ended up in court. As the article so neatly sums up a common problem with this kind of family wealth conflict: “Hanging over all the parties is the question of why the lawsuit lasted so long and cost so much money — the very money they were fighting over.”  On that topic, too, the parties — naturally — see the situation from very different perspectives.

Could mediation have helped this situation? Could it still help? Perhaps.  It’s hard to turn back the clock and see what might have worked. Even if the legal aspects could not be successfully mediated, a mediator could provide some assistance. Sometimes, even when one aspect of a family conflict over estate planning or settlement is not amenable to mediation, another aspect is. That’s party of the beauty of mediation: it’s flexible.

Posted in Conflict Resolution in the News, Family Wealth Mediation, Saturday, July 16th, 2011

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