The Nasty Inheritance Fight
Seiberling, The Leader-Post
war over a parent's estate can get nasty. Very nasty! It's
like a divorce between siblings.
heard horror stories about families being torn apart by an
inheritance battle -- brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews,
sons and daughters waging war on one another.
the dust settles, the "winner" may have won the
family war, but lost part of his or her family in the process.
your own family tree, with each branch connected to another,
sharing a common trunk. After a family war over an inheritance,
one or more of the branches are cut off, and they may never
grow back, explain the authors of The Family War: Winning
the Inheritance Battle, a new book that highlights what you
need to know about estate disputes.
over estates develop into some of the most emotionally charged
cases lawyers see.
and estates lawyers, authors Les Kotzer, Barry Fish and Jordan
Atin often see families fighting.
and death can do strange things to families, " Kotzer
said in a phone interview from his Toronto law office.
and money form a combustible combination," the authors
point out in their 224-page, straight-forward, easy-to-read
have seen our share of tragic family inheritance battles,"
Kotzer said. "Sometimes it's over a home, business or
cottage. Other times, it's over Mom's personal possessions
or Dad's baseball card or coin collection."
us assume that this sort of thing could never happen to us,
he said. But, as lawyers, Kotzer and his co-authors know otherwise.
really can happen in your family," they emphasize in
why they wrote The Family War -- "to provide you with
enough information so that you have a feel for what it's like
to be engulfed in a family war." And hopefully, Kotzer
said, knowing what you could face -- and at what cost -- will
inspire you and your family to work things out before things
get to the see-you-in-court stage. The book recognizes the
importance of resolving a family war as early as possible
to minimize its emotional and financial costs for you and
parent, aunt or uncle want to leave a legacy of a family war
when he or she dies? Of course not, Kotzer pointed out.
inheritance battles are occurring with increasing frequency,
believe that as more and more boomers (many of them spenders
who have lots of debt) inherit from their depression-era parents
(many of them savers), there will be many more families at
war," Kotzer predicted.
War is not an estate-planning book, he was quick to point
out. But rather, "it is focused on unlocking the mystery
of estate disputes."
discusses everything from the warning signs that a family
war might be looming in your family to providing strategies
to protect yourself if you are an executor (doing it right
and avoiding trouble). As well, it provides an overview of
the estate litigation process, plus strategies to prevent
estate litigation, including before death strategies (what
parents can do) and after death strategies (what children
points out that although estate fights are commonly perceived
to be just about money, there is almost always more to a family
war than just the money.
estate disputes are sewn by the seeds of jealousy, greed,
thirst for control, bitterness, hatred, and hurt feelings
resulting from real or perceived preferential treatment by
a parent," the book explains. "Such feelings can
erupt over being deprived of personal possessions or a share
in the money that was promised by a deceased parent."
How a will
is worded can pit family members against each other, as well.
many children, a parent's will is interpreted as reflecting
something deeper about their lifelong relationship. Those
words in black and white are an expression of a parent's confidence
or distrust, pride or disappointment in the child. A large
gift, or a smaller one, is seen as a reward or a reprimand,"
the book explains.
fighting isn't always over the entire will, Kotzer pointed
out. Sometimes, it's just a word or phrase being challenged,
such as the interpretation of "antiques" or "memorabilia"
or "personal belongings".
can agree to change Mom or Dad's will, Kotzer said. But the
executor can't make changes, he pointed out, adding that beneficiaries
can sue the executor if he or she hasn't carried out his or
her administration properly.
also emphasized the importance of being guarded. Choose your
words carefully, he recommended, or they may come back to
haunt you. For example, when writing the obituary or eulogy
for your father's funeral, think twice about your choice of
heartfelt words of appreciation for Dad's live-in housekeeper.
If you praise her for being more than just a housekeeper to
Dad, your kind words could be used against you by the housekeeper's
lawyer to claim a share of Dad's estate.
or obituary may not automatically win the case for the housekeeper,
Kotzer explained, but it could be a valuable piece of evidence.
aware that what happens at the funeral is often included as
evidence in an estate battle. "Watch what you say and
don't make threats," Kotzer cautioned, explaining that
a harsh word spoken or a confrontation at the funeral could
end in an affidavit filed in court. He added that a family
member's absence at the funeral may be used to indicate a
lack of love or a sign of disrespect for the deceased.
a lot to consider," Kotzer said matter-of-factly. But
if you're armed with the insight and strategies provided in
The Family War if you are involved in an inheritance battle,
you'll know what you can do to minimize it turning into a
War isn't available in bookstores. It can be ordered online
at www.thefamilywar.com or by calling 1-877-439-3999. The
book costs $28.95, plus tax and shipping.
War Web site also provides free referrals to estate lawyers
in your area, if you don't know where to turn, Kotzer pointed