Wills and estates are a major component of my law practice. Good timing in life, in that I know estate issues first hand, having been a co-trustee with my sister of my father’s estate. I also am familiar with the emotional dynamics of estates, having been a co-trustee with my sister of my father’s estate.
When people come to me with estate issues, I tell them that nobody is in his or her right mind for up to a year or more after a death of a parent, partner, or someone equally close. Some people never recover. This means that all raw emotional outbursts, all apparently irrational behaviours, all grievous insults, should be discounted and, preferably, forgiven. My brother showed up to our father’s wake in a ski suit. He had been skiing all day. His statement: I deny that he is dead. The statements of others: shame, shame, shame.
My sister and I were named as co-trustees of my father’s estate. My brother was not. A scenario I have never recommended to any client. It is generally preferable to name in one’s will an estate Trustee who has no economic interest in the estate. Naming a sibling as an estate Trustee far too frequently involves the potential for serious difficulties with the sibling not so named. Since there is a general legal history (with exceptions) of all estate litigants being paid their legal costs out of the estate, win or lose, there is very little incentive for a beneficiary who feels wronged to cool things down. When it comes to siblings, the aggrieved feelings can run very deep.
All of this to say that my sister and I were sued by my brother, in relation to our father’s estate. He felt, understandably though not accurately, that we were running the estate to his prejudice. He wanted justice, or at least some demonstration that he was not the unworthy one, as reflected in my father’s choice of estate Trustees.
My experience with civil litigation has been to be sued as an estate Trustee by my brother and to be sued for divorce by my wife. In both cases, I was fortunate to have legal counsel who were not tempted to pump things up, despite the fact that the rawness of emotion in estates and in divorce makes the pumpup easy to justify, plus generally involves enhanced legal fees as a consequence. If one wonders how a $2,000 divorce turns into an $80,000 divorce, check out how much equity is in the matrimonial home at the time of the separation of the parties, and whether the lawyers are trying to cool things down.
I settled with my brother, who is also a lawyer. I looked at his legal pleadings. Called him up:
Did you draft these?
They are very, very good. How much do you want?
All cooled down within days. The money was less important than the recognition that he was no beast.
We get out regularly. Never talk about it. Bad craziness, better remembered privately.