Death and War in Families

Posted on: February 10th, 2015
Death and War in Families
Bonnie D. Kupperman, Executive Editor, My Senior Portal
Ever since Leah stole Rachel's promised husband and Cain Killed Abel, sibling rivalry has fostered emotions from anger, jealousy and depression to a lifetime of estrangement.
Let the parent of such adult children die and leave a will designating that those adult offspring must settle the estate together as executors or choose one over the others….watch out….World War III erupts.
Where there is a will there are relatives and the promise of a destructive family fight.
Now long held resentments often fostered by the parents themselves by favoring or loving one child over another, explode into fights that insure more attorneys delight as their coffers grow while money carefully saved over a lifetime shrivel away while the families involved destroy each other.
It is a scene that is repeated daily. Parents who thought they were doing the right thing unknowingly set up wills designed to throw the adult children into battle.
The situation is so bad that two attorneys have dedicated their practices to prettying elders and beneficiaries.
Les Kotzer has built a practice on and written books and even a song about how how bad the situation can be and how to avoid it in the first place. Phoenix attorney Charles Arnold of Frazier Ryan Goldberg & Arnold, spends his time advocating for elders, the mentally ill and those with special needs.
Arnold has been protecting those who cannot protect themselves for more than 30 years. He wants his clients and everyone elsewhere to spend money up front, before they die to make sure everyone involved knows exactly what will happen.
Arnold recognizes that most families recoil from conversations around death. He has also seen enough trouble in families hat do no plan and talk ahead of a parent’s death, that he urges his clients to spend a few hundred dollars while they are well to hire an experienced mediator.
He wants the mediator to sit down with the elders and their adult children to discuss what the parents want. If the siblings have always gotten along there is less chance they will battle over money later. If there is a history of jealousy and resentment among them that dates back to childhood Arnold knows they will be big problems over a will that has not been thoroughly discussed while the parents are alive. 
Arnold compares the situation to a leaky roof. If you know that the roof is about to leak it is time to get it fixed rather than wait until it is leaking, he says. It is the same for families and money. Planning with the best estate planning attorney you can find and discussing those plans with your children is essential, Canadian Attorney Kotzer agrees. He says the situation is so critical he has written four books outlining how to avoid the family fight and and how to plan in advance. Kotzer has appeared on numerous television talk shows from FOX to ABC. He speaks throughout North America spreading his message of setting up wills and trusts so that heirs and executors do not fight.
Kotzer, 59, says his background of growing up in a loving family where family always came first, encouraged him to dedicate his career to helping others.
He says he learned what is important in life from his grandparents. He describes himself as a lawyer, speaker and songwriter. His song, Photos in the Drawer is one he says he hopes will stop people before they start a family fight.
The warning signs that there will be trouble can be clearly avoided, he maintains if adult parents of adult children do the following:
Communicate, talk, Communicate When it comes to dying, silence is not golden. Tell the children what you are planning to do and who will do what after you are gone. If is not IF you die but when you die. 
Create neutrality: the daughter does not automatically get the diamond. Maybe the son wants it.
Never assume anything. Tell adult children who gets the painting over the couch. Tell them that one child will get more than another because you gave them money earlier for this or that. Tell them who will be the executor. Do not expect that siblings who never got along as children will magically get along to settle an estate if they are all executors. Talk to them in a room absent their spouses.
Do not assume that equal gifts are equal in the eyes of the heirs. The child who was caregiver for 10 years may feel she or he is entitled to more than the brother who visited once a year.
Update the will regularly. Financial situations change. One child may need more than the other at different times in life. That is why it is so important to be sure the will is checked every few years.
Never use the word “antique” in a will unless it is specifically defined. One child may believe that the Elvis Presley collection of records are antiques while the other says only china from 1870 qualifies.
For more information please check out Arnold’s website: Frazer, Ryan, Goldberg & Arnold LLP and Kotzer’s site: Family Kotzer’s books and recordings are available on his website.
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