Don't Split Heirs Over Your Estate - The Family Fight

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The Family Fight In The Media

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Don't Split Heirs Over Your Estate

By Lubinger

I hope he's wrong, but my gut tells me he's not that far off.

Les Kotzer, a wills lawyer and author of "The Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It" (Continental Atlantic Publications, 2002, $19.95), describes a disturbing trend.

Free-spending baby boomers "laughed at their parents for keeping the old house on Main Street, for not going out much, for not buying Internet stocks," he said.

Now, those free spenders are trapped with the debt of expensive cars, big mortgages and other excesses. And they're hovering like buzzards, counting on an inheritance to bail them out, especially with their financial futures being sucked up by the stock market.

With inheritance taking on greater importance, he believes that more families are at risk of being torn apart in battles over who gets what. And it doesn't have to be.

With estate planning, "everybody's concerned with how to save tax, how to save tax," Kotzer said, "but nobody's telling them how to save families."

So he's trying. (The book can be ordered at 1-888-965-1500 or

Realize, he said, that siblings don't fight just over the will. Fights also erupt when a parent becomes incapacitated.

Some people wrongly assume that the wishes spelled out in their wills go into effect when they are unable to care for themselves. It doesn't. Only in death. Which is why, along with a will, parents need to name a power of attorney to handle their financial and medical affairs.

It can be a family member. It doesn't have to be. But make it someone you trust.

Don't do a homemade will. Too many folks just fill out a generic will printed off the computer and consider it done. You need a pro to handle the specifics.

"One word can ruin your family," Kotzer said.

Suppose your homemade will spells out that Susie gets all your antiques and Johnny gets the rest of your personal items. As they begin to take possession, they get to the old grandfather clock in the den. Is it an antique or not?

"Or you leave your piano to your son in California. Who pays the freight for that? I've seen battles over that," he said.

Don't assume goodwill between your children. You see them laughing over Thanksgiving dinner. You can't imagine them ever fighting over your final wishes. Don't be naive.

Don't base your estate planning on your children having long-term marriages. Suppose you name your daughter-in-law as executor of the will, then their marriage crumbles. It doesn't get any uglier than that.

"Plan based on the terrible assumption that your children's marriages may not be permanent," he advised.

Don't plan your will in a second marriage the same way you would plan one in a first marriage. Blended families create some obvious complex issues.

"Don't assume that your second spouse is going to look after your children from your first marriage," he said.

Constantly review your will. Suppose you plan to leave your baseball card collection to your son and something of equal value to your daughter. Ten years later, the value of each item could have changed dramatically, creating an unintended imbalance. Revisit and adjust.

© 2002 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.



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