Is it better to settle or go all the way to trial in Illinois probate estate litigation?

In Illinois contested estate litigation, there are usually two basic outcomes for estates:  a settlement agreement or a final judgment from a trial.  So, which way is better?  Let's take a closer look.


The Pros and Cons of Settling an Illinois Estate prior to Trial


The main pro of settling an estate prior to trial is that it is usually a much less expensive option, and it usually involves a lot less stress.  Settlement is also the safest option when dealing with litigation, as going to trial can be risky, time-consuming and expensive.  When settling a litigated matter, one party can negotiate with the opposing party directly rather than leave the decision to the discretion of the Court.  


The main con for many people in settling an estate is the foregoing of a chance at getting a larger inheritance or better outcome through a trial.  Some individuals also relish the idea of "sticking it to" the other party, no matter who gets hurt or how much it costs.  Other individuals may additionally think that compromising in a settlement is a sign of weakness or "giving up".  Because of this, some people will fight all the way to trial whether it is in their best interests or not.


The Pros and Cons of Litigating an Illinois Estate all the Way to Trial


The main pro of litigating an estate all the way to trial is the opportunity of receiving the best possible outcome in a given case for a given party.  Litigating all the way to trial can also give a party the satisfaction of having his/her "day in court", meaning that he/she will have the peace of mind of knowing that the issues will have been fully analyzed and judged by the probate court.


The main con, however, is that litigating all the way to trial is oftentimes very expensive.  Litigating all the way to a trial can also sometimes take several years due to the extensive process related to discovery and the various hearings throughout the litigation process.  In addition, trials can be very unpredictable, leaving parties in a much different position than expected in the end.  Overall, parties generally underestimate the financial and emotional toll that expensive, protracted litigation has on everyone involved.


A Reality Check regarding Illinois Probate Litigation


When an estate is initially opened and the parties in the estate are facing litigation, it is common for the individuals involved to desire litigating an estate for "as long as it takes" to get the desired result.  This sentiment, however, is usually based on naivety and unfounded optimism in the court system.  In order to better understand this situation, let's take a look at a few examples.


In scenario A, an estate has $300,000.00 in it, primarily held in real estate.  Because the parties hate each other, litigation drags on for three years before they finally get to trial.  After the trial is over and the judgment is given (which neither party is happy with), both parties are handed a bill from their respective attorneys for legal fees and costs in the amount of $75,000.00 each.  The parties are both angry with the court system and attorneys for taking away half of the estate in fees and costs, and taking years to achieve this result.


In scenario B, an estate has $10 million dollars in it, held in real estate, stocks, bonds, small businesses, etc.  Complex estate litigation lasts for 3-5 years before a trial finally takes place, and the court makes a final judgment on the unresolved contested issues.  Both parties each receive a bill for $300,000.00 from their respective attorneys.  However, after $600,000.00 is paid to the attorneys for fees and costs, there is still $9.4 million dollars left to divide between the parties.    


In scenario C, the same estate as in scenario A is instead settled after 18 months of litigation.  Both parties each receive a bill from their attorneys in the amount of $15,000.00 after the settlement is finalized.  While neither party gets exactly what he/she wants, both parties find satisfaction in knowing that most of the estate is still going to the parties involved (and not their attorneys), that the estate was resolved years earlier than it otherwise would have been, that they were able to control the outcome much more effectively, and that the overall stress of the litigation process was cut down considerably.


After looking at these three scenarios, it becomes obvious that lengthy, expensive estate litigation all the way to trial does not normally make sense in smaller estates (under $500,000.00).  Larger estates can simply bear the cost of expensive attorney's fees and related litigation costs much better than smaller estates.  With this in mind, it is highly advisable to consider settling smaller estates prior to trial if at all possible.


If you have an Illinois estate litigation matter, contact us today to see how we can help you resolve the estate.  In our practice, we represent Executors named in a Will (as well as Administrators who have already been appointed by a local Probate Court) to settle litigation related to an estate.  If you are an Executor (or a court-appointed Administrator) with a contested matter, give us a call at (630) 898-4789 to set up a free initial consultation.  













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