Eileen AJ Connelly — AP Personal Finance Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — There's a lot more that goes into a will than directions on how to distribute an estate to your heirs.
Memories, resentments, regrets and greed are just some of the extras that get thrown into the mix. And even when families seem to have strong relationships before the will is read, anger and rage can bubble up if just one person believes that a will is unfair.
Les Kotzer, a wills and estate lawyer in suburban Toronto, has seen families damaged by fights over an inheritance. But people can avoid much of the pain by facing some truths while the will is being written, he said.
Parents should first recognize that "equal" doesn't always mean "fair." Splitting assets evenly between siblings may seem like the equitable way to divide an estate, Kotzer said. But when issues like how much parents contributed to the education of one sibling or the caregiving role of another are factored in, what's fair may be quite different from an even split.
Kotzer also advises people to never assume that after they die, their children will work things out, especially when it comes to things like family heirlooms. His new book, "Where There's an Inheritance," co-written with attorney Barry Fish, tells stories of clients disagreeing over precious items, from a grandfather's piano to a family portrait. The hurt that remains when these emotional issues turn into legal battles can be devastating, Kotzer said.
"People have to recognize that fighting is not just over money," he said. Parents who want to help their kids avoid disagreements or make sure that personal effects go to certain people need to be specific. "It's important to work out a neutral solution."
Careful planning and communication can help solve problems before they arise. "It's about learning how to avoid the battles," Kotzer said. "You have to recognize what the aftermath of a family battle is."
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