Paul Pioneer Press
is Best Way to Avoid Family Feud Over
I'm trying to prepare a will but am not
sure what to do with some of my belongings,
like my car. I want to treat my sons equally,
but one son isn't as well off as the other.
I am thinking of giving some of my possessions
to the son who needs them most, but I
don't want the other one to be upset.
This is not an unusual situation, and
you are wise to proceed with caution.
Parents often inadvertently ignite hard
feelings with their wills even when they
try to show no favoritism.
wills attorney Les Kotzer has written
a book/music CD based on his experiences
with clients. He describes family members
at each other's throats over photo albums,
vases and even a lunch box. While people
think of money and expensive possessions
as the volatile stuff mentioned in wills,
relatively inexpensive objects can be
the focus of dear memories. The division
of those objects can be as explosive as
doling out material wealth.
the song "The Family Fight,"
Kotzer describes a scene between two warring
brothers following their mother's death:
dividing all of mother's things,
Deciding on her rugs and rings
I can't believe what's happening tonight.
Can't split a painting on a wall
Or share a table in the hall.
I never dreamt that we could fall apart;
It would break our mother's heart.
Tonight, we're in a family fight.
And yet as kids we'd talk away the night.
But now, we're in a family fight."
song has been aired on several radio stations
and has inspired people to contact Kotzer
with their own painful stories. (You can
read some on Kotzer's Web site at www.familyfight.com.)
says he's highlighting the fights so he
can prevent them in other families. The
best solution, he says, is for parents
to talk to their children about possessions
and their wills while they are still able
to do so.
you meet with your children, tell them
that if any of them bought you something
in particular, you want them to take it,"
he says. "If not, let's talk now
about other possessions; not when I pass
think their wills will speak for them
after their deaths, but intentions can
be misconstrued — often leaving
wounds that can never be healed.
doesn't take a lot to destroy a family,
and it can happen in any family —
no matter how close they've been,"
also warns you not to judge your sons'
wealth by appearances.
lot of kids don't have what you think,"
Kotzer says. "They have expensive
cars and homes, but it may all be mortgaged."
dealt with exactly that situation. In
1999, a father considered leaving more
to the son he thought was most needy —
a civil servant with a relatively small
salary. The other son was a doctor. But
in 2000, the father was glad he had divided
his estate evenly. When the stock market
crashed, the doctor lost his wealth and
wills are often written many years before
a person dies, assumptions can be outdated
by the time an estate is divided up. In
such a case, it would be tragic for the
financially distressed brother to have
to ask the one with a large inheritance
to help him out, Kotzer says.
also notes that it's worth talking to
children about what they will inherit
because one may not want an item, while
another may. Sometimes, parents divide
up rooms of furniture in their homes —
perhaps telling one child to take the
dining room and the other to take the
living room. But if there has been no
discussion about the items prior to a
parent's death, one child may not want
to move a piano, and another may have
a wife who doesn't want the furniture,
avoid problems, Kotzer suggests talking
to children individually and then holding
a family meeting so all understand the
rationale for decisions. And if a parent
wants to treat one child differently,
he suggests giving gifts while still living
rather than suggesting favoritism in a
more information, "The Family Fight:
Planning to Avoid It" book and "A
Family United, A Family Divided"
CD are available at www.family fight.com