New York Post
The Family Jewels
was all-out sibling war and the spoils were contained
in a knapsack: family photos, birthday cards, overnight
camp letters - ripped, torn, marred with curse words.
The warriors were a sister and two brothers. The
cause - absolute stalemate over their recently passed
seniors living longer than ever and their baby boomer
children eager to inherit their savings, tension
over wills and estates has increased these days
and family infighting is on the rise, experts say.
and estates attorney Les Kotzer has seen so many
sibling wars like this one, he wrote a book about
them - "Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It"
- to help families prevent them.
tells stories of brothers throwing books over estates,
sisters throwing fits over antique vases and families
throwing in the towel before trying to work things
out with each other.
kids didn't hate each other growing up," he
said. "I've seen too many families destroyed.
I don't practice saving taxes; I practice saving
increased infighting is a partially a matter of
demographics. Economists have predicted the largest
intergenerational transfer of wealth in history
would take place from the mid 1990s until 2020,
with $12 trillion being transferred to the country's
76 million boomers from their penny-pinching parents.
was a saving generation," said Kozter. "They
saved every penny - cut coupons, lived in the same
house, didn't go and buy fancy this and that. Their
children, on the other hand, were the spenders and
lost money in the stock market. What you see on
the street with the fancy cars, you think these
people have lots of money, but in reality this generation
generation makes up a whole 32 percent of the population,
and not all of them will necessarily inherit a lot.
to a 1994 benchmark study by economists Robert Avery
and Michael Rendell of Cornell University, only
a few stand to inherit the bulk of the wealth -
one-third of the money will go to a privileged 1
percent of the baby boomers, who will receive about
$1.6 million apiece.
bulk of the boomers will be lucky to inherit $40,000
each, said Avery and Rendell. And with the Center
for Disease Control reporting an all-time high average
life expectancy of 77.2 years, tensions are running
high for boomers having to wait a long time for
a little money.
can remember when clients were getting inheritances
in their fifties, and now they are having to wait
until their sixties and seventies," said Dennis
Belcher, chairman of the Real Property, Probate
and Trust Law section of the American Bar Association.
"People are getting impatient, resulting in
tensions, an estimated 70 percent of the adult population
does not even have a written will, according to
the National Association of Insurance and Financial
families can be left uncertain as to how assets
should be distributed, leading to fights over minutia.
had cases where the client had millions of dollars
in assets and there was a fight that went to litigation
over who gets custody of the photo albums,"
said Sanford Schlesinger, a wills and estates attorney
with the New York branch of Kaye Scholer. "We
don't know sometimes what other people think is
important. And very often the expectations of the
children are very different from the parental idea
of what should be done."
if parents do draft wills, fighting can ensue if
they do not leave equal amounts to each child, said
example, Schlesinger helped pick up the pieces when
a woman left 40 percent of her estate to one daughter
and 60 percent to another, thinking the latter daughter
needed more money.
didn't know, however, that the daughter given 40
percent was much more financially needy. "That
daughter spent the rest of her life saying 'Mommy
didn't love me,' " Schlesinger said. "And
that was not the truth. Mommy just thought there
was a different need in a different place. And Mommy
can also ensue, however, if parents do leave equal
amounts of money to children when the children aren't
necessarily equally deserving - for instance when
only one sibling acted as a caretaker of the parent
in his or her old age or was more involved in the
family business than other siblings.
ward off infighting, experts suggest older adults
plan early. This could mean giving gifts while they
are still alive or beginning lifetime trusts for
avoid possible pettiness over their possessions,
it is important for adults to have a well-drafted
estate plan with no ambiguities.
even recommend individuals file a statement in their
own handwriting or record a voice message to explain
importantly, said Kotzer, all involved should strive
for open communication during the entire will execution.