The Family Fight - Planning To Avoid It

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The Family Fight In The Media

The Orange County Register

It's Time To Talk Turkey About Estates And Wills

By Jane Glenn Haas
The Orange County Register

We all know people like the free-spending boomer couple who drove up to attorney Les Kotzer's East Coast office in a leased Jaguar. Their posh home is mortgaged to the hilt. They have no money in the bank.

"So what do you do for a living?" Kotzer asked the guy.

"He's a waiter," his wife said. "He's waiting for his inheritance."

Kotzer, a boomer himself, has little patience with some of these "waiters."

Estate planners figure trillions of dollars will change hands as Depression-era parents die and boomers come into their carefully saved money.

Too often, when inheritance time rolls around, they squabble over money and family stuff. They fight with siblings and other relatives. They fracture families.

"And usually because their parents - with all good intentions - failed to spell things out in a will," he says.

He has horror stories by the bucketful:

The patient, caregiving daughter who was promised the family home but didn't get it because Mama forgot, left everything equally and relied on the good will of her brothers and sisters.

The blood son cut off by a stepmother who inherited a father's estate that made no provision for his own child.

The divorce that splits a son's marriage but never shows up in the will that still leaves jewelry to the wife.

The message to parents is clear: Never assume when it comes to money.

The message to adult children is equally obvious: Talk this stuff over with your parents.

In fact, with family holiday gatherings fast approaching, a little estate-planning talk could be the best intergenerational gift of the season.

In their book, "The Family Fight - Planning to Avoid It," Kotzer and his partner, Barry Fish, focus on avoiding fights instead of tax planning.

On their Web site, www, family members have posted tales of inheritance terror.

Don't like the idea of your kids fighting over your antiques? Establish who gets what and let everyone in on the plans.

Years ago, my grandmother made a list of her best "stuff" and rotated the list among her five children. The eldest got first pick and so on until all the items were distributed on paper well before her death.

Kotzer applauds that approach. He also encourages talking over who's in charge of the money.

"Few attorneys will ask you if you've talked over with your children who is going to be executor, for example," Kotzer says. "Communication is the key."

Their book is a practical guideline for things like how to pick an executor, when to use a trust, why you shouldn't write your own will.

"You may have the best intentions in the world," they write, "but unless those intentions are expressed clearly and with precision in a will, you are creating a risk that your family might come up with two different versions of your true intentions, and this can express itself in a family dispute."

I know, you don't want to talk about money and your kids don't want to know you expect to die - particularly at holiday times.

Just get a copy of "The Family Fight" and read the chapter on "inheriting turmoil." Then bring your estate to the table along with the turkey.

"The Family Fight" is $19.95 and is available through or phone 1-877-439-3999 toll-free.


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