family business dispute

Parties to probate court proceedings involving family-owned business interests held in trusts or estates can agree to arbitrate their disputes instead of proceeding through the court system.  Such agreements could be broadly drafted to include “all disputes” arising from or relating to a decedent’s trusts or estate.  Or they could be narrowly focused to address only limited issues that may arise in the course of trust or estate administration, for example, disputes over the valuation of business interests. In all events, parties should carefully identify and agree upon the scope of the disputes they are agreeing to arbitrate before beginning the arbitration process.  In In re Estate of Richard T. Gordon (Case No. 339296, November 8, 2018), the Court of Appeals of Michigan recently reviewed an award in which the arbitrator divided certain family-owned business interests that previously were held by trusts or estates.  One family member challenged the award on the grounds that it exceeded the scope of the parties’ arbitration agreement.
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Disputes sometimes arise between owners of family-owned businesses. And sometimes those owners say unflattering or insulting things about one another to other family members. When one family member claims that another owes him or her money in connection with the business, he or she may even use language like “steal,” “thief” and “robbed” in comments about the other owner.  When that happens, can the target of the statements sue for defamation?  In Nguyen v. Vu, Civil Action No. 18-CV-01132, a United States District Court in Colorado recently dealt with such a claim and decided that the statements were not defamatory, particularly where the statements were made in the context of the family business dispute and were not made in the presence of any non-family members.
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