Elizabeth Pollina Donlon has been involved in some phase of estates and trusts practice for over 30 years - she's written about it, she's practiced it, and she is actively engaged in promoting neutral mediation as a means of resolving estate-related disputes.
Donlon started her legal career with the Long Island unit of a national publishing house as a legal editor, honing her researching and writing skills and, in the process, acquiring an expertise in a defined area of the law: Estate and gift taxation, and fiduciary responsibility. ("It was like going to graduate school but with a practical twist. I would read all the court cases and IRS rulings in the estate tax area and then write articles aimed at practitioners in the field. Initially, if the taxpayer won, I'd write: 'Do this.' And if the taxpayer lost, I'd write: 'Don't do that.' Eventually, I became very familiar with the estate and gift tax sections of the Internal Revenue Code and the then-recent decisions, and my articles became more informative. When the time came to put what I preached into practice, there was no question about what my area of concentration would be.")
Donlon's law practice focused on estates and trusts law - concentrating on estate planning, estate administration and all kinds of Surrogate's Court proceedings, including contested matters. A particular matter, involving a surviving spouse's life estate in his late wife's share of their home, inspired her to write an article about the subject for the New York Bar Journal which led to invitations to speak before various professional groups on how to avoid -- with proper planning and drafting -- the circumstances that often lead to litigation.
As her practice in this area evolved, it appeared that litigating was becoming more commonplace. She observed that when family members are fighting, the argument is not always just about the assertion of one side's legal rights. "Nor is it entirely about the money. It's often about age-old jealousies, resentments, and unresolved sibling rivalry. Although a lot of the legal issues and the parties' feelings are valid, litigation is not necessarily the way to go. With few exceptions, the cases are settled - but literally after years of litigation, significant expense, and more-often-than-not, on the eve of a trial. And what's accomplished: one side wins, and the other side loses." According to Donlon, instead of litigating in a will contest or a discovery proceeding, the parties and their counsel ought to be aware that there's another option, and should consider an alternative method of resolving an estate-related controversy: mediation. In fact, Donlon now regards mediation as her primary practice area. She serves as both a mediator or as a consulting attorney in the mediation process.