When asked for advice as to how to avoid the destructive kind of litigation which characterizes a contested estate, many lawyers will probably opt for a well-constructed in terrorem clause –a legal poison pill which threatens a potential contestant with the loss of his or her legacy.
Not so this lawblogger. To appreciate and understand my solution, you first have to imagine a beautiful summer day in the late fifties or early sixties. A family is headed into the mountains for a vacation in one of those old ":woody" station wagons. Mom and dad are chatting or listening to the radio in the front seat oblivious to their kids in the back seat.
The back seat, however, is total turmoil. Children calling each other vile names, fighting over toys or snacks and sneaking in a rabbit punch wherever an opportunity exists. Mom and dad continue to pay no attention whatsoever to this bedlam.
Scroll ahead to last Tuesday, about fifteen years after Dad has gone to his reward as the kids tearfully watch their mother lowered into the earth. Each walks separately to his or her car, takes out a cell phone and calls an estate attorney. GAME ON!
I was much influenced by the last interview given by Jackie Kennedy shortly before her death. She said that the most important thing she had achieved in her life was to make sure that her children loved each other. As I reflect on this Father’s Day, I have to chime in "me too!".
It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it takes a bit of therapy. Sometimes it takes a bit more money than you were prepared to spend. Always it takes a hands-on approach to parenting and an intensive interest in your children’s lives. Do your best to deprive them of the ability to complain that you never approved of them. Do whatever you have to do. In the end, you will reap many benefits in your lifetime here on earth. When you are gone, you will have greatly minimized the chances that your kids will pick up their cudgels and hand over a big chunk of the wealth you spent a lifetime building to a lawyer like me. I won’t mind.