There's A Will ...
say inheritance battles are like divorce between siblings
Jonathan Chevreau, Financial Post
is a dark side to the "trillion-dollar" transfer
of wealth to the Baby Boomers. That is, families battling
over inheritances. Two Canadian wills and estates lawyers
have followed up their bestselling The Family Fight with the
more ominous The Family War.
of the original book, which sold 22,000 copies, shows a torn
black and white photo of two brothers divided. In like fashion,
The Family War features a photo of an entire family torn in
feature two principals of Thornhill, Ont.-based Fish &
Associates: estates litigator Barry Fish and will-drafting
expert Les Kotzer. For the follow-up book, they've enlisted
a third co-author: Jordan Atin, a specialist in estates and
in the two books is stark. The Family Fight was subtitled
"How to Avoid It." Sadly, the follow-up outlines
what can happen when things escalate into a nasty and expensive
war. The Family War's subtitle is "Winning the Inheritance
Battle." (As in "I win, you lose.")
liken a family war over a parent's estate to a "divorce
over estates, they write, "develop into some of the most
emotionally charged cases that lawyers see."
of a loved one can "unleash a potent mixture of love,
hate, guilt, anger, jealousy and a host of other emotions,"
the trio write.
essence, the family war is the use of the legal system to
address one or more of these emotions."
is full of occasionally amusing, but more often tragic stories
of what these lawyers experience in their practices.
usually begin with poorly drafted wills or no wills at all.
Even where wills exist and appear solid, they may be contested
by nasty siblings who value money over family. It's a sad
testament to human nature but an all-too-real phenomenon.
might assume nasty battles happen more often in wealthy families
-- since there's more to fight over -- that's not always the
case, says Kotzer.
Fight garnered much publicity in the United States, with Kotzer
drawing hundreds of phone-in calls during talk radio shows.
You can be sure the new book will attract even more attention.
is also a songwriter and has self-published a two-song CD
performed by Glass Tiger's Alan Frue. One song is called The
Family Fight; the second, Photos in a Drawer, describes the
angst of a family looking back on family photos after the
death of their mother.
not enough, Kotzer has his sights set on producing a screenplay
about the topic. From the stories I heard over several interviews,
I'd think there's enough material for a television series.
I'm just not sure whether it would be a comedy or a tragedy.
The new book says most families assume "this sort of
thing could never happen to them." But it happens all
20 warnings signs. For example, perhaps one sibling shares
a joint bank account with one of your still-living parents.
What if a brother lives beyond his means? He may be a "waiter"
-- someone waiting for his inheritance to bail himself out
of his financial predicament.
signs may not even involve money. What if there is a favourite
painting in the family? Ask yourself how you'd feel if it
ends up hanging on your sister's wall. "Many family wars
are fights over items with great sentimental value, but little
monetary value," the authors write. "The consistent
experience of the authors allows us to state emphatically
that the battles among children are very often over memories,
as opposed to money."
money is a close second, and squabbles over it are less likely
to be resolved by friendly negotiations.
another sibling sacrificed years of her life to care for an
ailing parent? Will she expect additional compensation?
if your parents gave your brother money for university but
not you, or helped other siblings with down payments on their
a biggie: What if your mother has already died and your father
has hooked up with a much younger woman?
disputes are not like other lawsuits. "A family estate
battle is likely to haunt you for the rest of your life, and
your family for generations to come."
and Fish close with the observation that -- despite their
new book's subtitle -- winning a family inheritance battle
may at best be a hollow victory. No amount of money can compensate
for a shattered family. Sadly, too many learn this lesson