Grayson M.P. McCouch
Another Perspective on Testamentary Arbitration
Response to E. Gary Spitko, The Will As An Implied Unilateral Arbitration Contract
The American law of succession is remarkable both for its expansive concept of testamentary freedom and for its antiquated and cumbersome probate system. In principle, a testator enjoys virtually unlimited freedom to dispose by will of property owned at death, but enforcement of the testator’s directions generally requires a proceeding in a probate court to prove the will and appoint an executor to administer the estate. To avoid the expense and delay of court proceedings, transferors routinely use revocable trusts and other devices that replicate the effects of a will but operate outside the probate system. Moreover, some transferors seek to prevent their wills and trusts from becoming embroiled in litigation by requiring that disputes be resolved by private arbitration. The twin phenomena of probate avoidance and mandatory arbitration clauses stem from a common desire on the part of transferors to control the process as well as the substantive terms governing the disposition of their accumulated wealth. While transferors are generally free to dispose of property during life or at death without unnecessary court involvement, mandatory arbitration clauses raise controversial questions of enforceability and procedural fairness. Read more.