Where There's an Inheritance

The Star

Where there's a will ...

James Daw

Every day inheritances are delivered, withheld, dissipated and dreamt about. At the best of times, they bring out the worst in families; at the worst of times, the best.

Battles over money, heirlooms and memorabilia will become more volatile as the economy sinks into recession, warns Les Kotzer, Canada's song-writing wills lawyer.

The estate specialist is a peacekeeper on the front lines of the family fight, yet he is already hearing echoes from the recession and the collapse of real estate prices in the early 1990s.

"With the meltdown of the economy, my big concern is we are going to see the meltdown of families," he frets.

"Kids are going to look for a mattress to fall back on. A lot of the baby boomers are being laid off, or potentially laid off, and have lost a ton of their money in the market."

A generation of spenders will lean on the generation of savers, coupon cutters and packers of tuna sandwiches in reused lunch bags.

"The boomers today are different: Restaurants for lunch – $50 for lunch isn't a big deal – and they have every bit of television equipment (unlike his father to this day).

"They come into my office and actually laugh: GICs? Why would I do what my father did? I can make more in one week than he made in 10 years investing in GICs."

But with stock market prices driven down to the levels of a decade ago, Kotzer already senses an air of desperation and the scent of greed in the calls he receives.

"`My mom doesn't have a will. How can I get her to make a will?' callers ask. I say: `Look, it's up to your mom to make a will,' but these are the kids calling. Or I hear: `My mom died; how fast can I get the inheritance? How long is probate?' I am starting to realize, the real source of security for these kids is the mom's house in Etobicoke or High Park, the house she paid $50,000 for, the house that used to be worth $800,000 and now is worth $600,000.

"`Do I have to pay tax on that, or do I get the whole thing,' the callers ask. `How fast do I get it? My brother won't tell me what's in the estate. I need the money now.'"

Kids laid off will look to borrow from their parents, or move back in. Their siblings will suspect they are positioning themselves to get financial favours or inherit mom's home.

Family businesses will fail, potential inheritances will go up on smoke. New wills will be written after heartless comments or premature discussions about how to divide up auntie's antiques.

"`He's getting the inheritance, and I'm getting an unheritance because he moved back with her.' This is kind of dynamics you are going to start to see," Kotzer warns.

He and his partner, Barry Fish, charming self-promoters who have become favoured guests on talk shows across North America, have just completed their latest book.

Again in Where There's An Inheritance, Stories from Inside the World of Two Wills Lawyers they explore the emotional and practical issues surrounding the death of a family member, the transfer of wealth and the battles that often ensue.

The book is not devoted entirely to recession-era tales, but several sections are. All have some lesson or moral to impart. Several will shock the reader while other examples of love and generosity will bring tears to the eyes.

The $24.95 book is not in bookstores yet. It may be ordered by calling 905-881-1500 or 1-877-439-3999 or by visiting the website www.inheritancestories.com. The lawyers offer to review existing wills for free.

Copyright © Continental Atlantic Publications