To fight for their inheritance, the wealthiest families are turning to a conflict-resolution strategy used by the US Postal Service

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

the royal tenenbaums It's slow and expensive. Buena Vista Pictures

When you think of a summer home, you probably think of sandy hallways, shady porches, and bitter battles over who inherits the place when Grandma and Grandpa are dead.


In The New York Times, Paul Sullivan writes that wealthy families who once turned to their lawyers over matters of inheritance are now pursuing a different method of conflict resolution: transformative mediation.

He describes transformative mediation as "an ambitious but often lengthy process with a single goal: to get the people involved to think differently."

Sullivan, who is also the author of "The Thin Green Line: Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy," continues: "If siblings are successful in changing their thoughts about each other, practitioners say, the present conflict will be resolved and the relationships that the siblings have with each other will be altered."

Interestingly, squabbles over summer homes run counter to another trend profiled in The Times: grown children's resistance to inheriting their parents' stuff, to the point that Goodwill is "overrun" with donations and aging parents are paying thousands for help downsizing.

Apparently, four bedrooms on Nantucket doesn't count as "stuff."

But before wealthy families started using transformative mediation to change their minds about one another and the beach access up for grabs, Sullivan points out, the US Postal Service incorporated it as an "accepted method of conflict resolution."

This started in 1994. Robert A. Baruch Bush, a law professor at Hofstra University, and Joseph P. Folger, a communications professor at Temple University, helped the USPS develop a program to "solve underlying conflicts between workers so that they could return to their jobs and work together," Sullivan writes.

While staying out of court is probably a good thing for families at odds, the transformative mediation process can be long and expensive, Sullivan writes — and in that way, at least, perhaps not all that different from the legal channels families might have pursued in the past.