Don't Leave A Legacy Of Hard Feelings - The Family Fight

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The Family Fight In The Media

The Charlotte Observer

Don't Leave A Legacy Of Hard Feelings

By Pam Kelley, Staff Writer

Recently, my brother told me about a friend struggling to come to a truce with his three siblings over their father's estate.

When their father died, he left his house to his four children. My brother's friend wanted to keep the house and had offered to buy out his siblings' shares, but they weren't convinced they were getting a fair deal. Today, relations remain strained. Some of the siblings no longer speak. We shook our heads and agreed never to let an inheritance come between us.

But even the best of intentions don't always prevent fights, attorney Les Kotzer says. As a specialist on wills and estates, Kotzer has witnessed many quarrels over family estates, often between baby-boomer children squabbling over money and property left by their Depression-era parents.

Kotzer and his partner, Barry Fish, are authors of "The Family Fight: Planning To Avoid It," (Continental Atlantic Publications Inc.; $24.95). Often, estate-planning books focus on avoiding estate taxes. This one has a different aim: preventing inheritance squabbles from destroying family relationships.

Though some family fights revolve around money, many erupt when siblings fight over memories, or slights that one child feels. "What we're talking about is usually stuff that never goes to court, but it leaves bitter memories that last," Kotzer says.

Families can avoid or at least minimize such acrimony if parents are foresighted, open and thorough when they prepare wills, the authors say. Among their pieces of advice:

Secrecy breeds fights. Parents should tell their children about their plans.

Don't make assumptions. Don't assume, for instance, that your kids will exercise good will when they divide your valuables. Talk to them about who wants the china or the handmade quilt, and record these decisions.

Similarly, don't leave a business or piece of property to a child without discussion. She might find it more burden than gift.

Don't assume that equal means fair. If one child has acted as a caregiver to a parent, giving many hours of his or her time, perhaps that child is entitled to a larger share of the estate.

Exercise extra care when a second marriage is involved. The authors tell of one man whose father remarried and left everything to his second wife when he died. When she died, she left everything to her own two children. What hurts most, he told the authors, is that he has lost family heirlooms, including photos of himself and his parents.

Be organized. The book includes a checklist to help organize important documents, names and phone numbers so your family can find them.

Be specific. Kotzer recalls a woman who left "personal monies" to a sister. Did she mean money in bank accounts? Did she want to include certificates of deposit? It took a lawsuit to settle that one.

"The Family Fight" isn't available in bookstores, but you can order it at, at, or by calling 1-877-439-3999.



Copyright © Continental Atlantic Publications Inc.