The Family Fight - Planning To Avoid It

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The Family Fight In The Media

London Free Press

Silence No Solution To Family Feuds
A new book by a pair of wills and estate experts argues it's better to get everything in the open.

By Jerry Gladman

There are many aspects to life in which silence is considered golden, but not when it comes to death.

That's one of the scenarios emphasized by will and estate experts Les Kotzer and Barry Fish in The Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It, a handy, inexpensive ($27) guide to avoiding ill will among families when dealing with the dearly departed and all the worldly treasures left behind.

"There are so many situations dealing with wills and estates that you have to talk about with family members," says Kotzer, who admits he and Fish have seen just about every manner of quarrel between family members.

"These things must be brought up now to avoid pitfalls later. It's very important. You can never assume people will be okay with this or that. You have to discuss. It's one area where silence is definitely not golden."

The book is basically designed to act as a communications bridge between parents and their adult children. "Barry and I have seen our share of family fights and it seems to be getting worse as the Baby Boomers's parents become incapable or pass away. It's tragic to see once- close families torn apart."

Many professionals in the field of estate planning talk about the importance of saving tax. While Kotzer and Fish believe this is necessary, they also stress the importance of saving the family. Oftentimes, these festering wounds can last for years and, surprisingly, the fights are not always over money."

The book offers real-life family stories and provides suggestions and strategies based on years of experience in the field. It focuses on such issues as dealing with incapacity, the caregiving child, the family home, avoiding inadvertent inequality, the second marriage, inappropriate assumptions people make when planning, organizational strategies and dealing with cherished personal items.

It's amazing what can develop into a fight among family members who always got along when poorly-considered wills or inept estate planning come into play. And problems can range all the way from expensive homes or rare paintings to a treasured but cheap hairpin or a video recorder.

"Some 50 per cent to 60 per cent of people don't have wills at all," says Kotzer. "They're afraid. They think it's expensive, they think if they make out a will they will surely die sooner than expected. They also think they have to list everything they own.

"That's not true. But what is true is if you don't have a will it can be a real mess."

It's amazing what can develop into a fight among family members who always got along until poorly-considered will or inept estate planning come into play.

For instance, there were two brothers who bickered over the amount that should be spent on their father's funeral. The older brother wanted to go the inexpensive route while the younger brother felt their father deserved to go out in style. In the end, cheaper won out, but it also caused a permanent rift between the siblings.

"The youngest son was so disgruntled that he didn't feel his father was honoured and he felt very hurt about it," says Fish. "It drove the two brothers apart. But the whole problem could have been avoided if the father had let his wishes be known."

Kotzer jumped in. "See, in this case, silence was not so golden. And it's that way in so many situations."

Another problem, says Kotzer, is that many adult kids have a problem discussing death with their parents.

"Too often the parents resent it, as in: 'You can't wait to get your hands on my money.' As a result, kids feel inhibited."

The bottom line for everyone is to consistently review their documentation. Always know what you have and what it's worth. Things can change. Values change.

Too many people tend to trivialize the need for legal advice and proper will planning and try to go it alone. Some are buying U.S.-based will kits off the Internet which are not geared to Canadian laws.


Copyright © Continental Atlantic Publications Inc.