Lawyer reveals 20 years worth of inheritance battles and heartaches
By Lacy Atalick
Les Kotzer sees what goes on behind closed doors.
The wills and estate lawyer -- who has built his practice resolving inheritance disputes -- is opening up to help others learn from his front-row seat to squabbling siblings, wrenching relationships and fractured families.
"Anybody out there who is fighting with their family, that thinks that their life is so difficult, who hates their job -- you may change your life when you read stories like that and you realize what life is all about," Kotzer said from his Toronto office.
In the book, Where There's an Inheritance: Stories From the World of Two Wills Lawyers (Continental Atlantic Publications), Kotzer shares the stories he says gave himself and co-author Barry Fisher a deeper appreciation for life.
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Given the recession, Kotzer's getting media attention from CNN to the New York Times for the practical advice gleaned from tales of greed, rage, anger, love and empathy.
The University of Windsor Law graduate said he often sees people who are at the end of their life, who need to decide important details such as the fate of their family.
One woman, Kotzer said, had terminal cancer and he had to ask her who would raise her seven-year-old daughter once she died.
"I can't give her up," she told Kotzer, and started to cry. She continued to weep in his office.
"Who's going to know the way I comb her hair?
"Who's going to know the way I read her stories and the way I pinch her nose?" the mother asked desperately.
The ordeal was even tough for Kotzer, who admits he often has to fight to hold back tears.
That simple life lesson -- learning to appreciate what you've got -- is not uncommon in Kotzer's practice.
He said one rainy, cold, windy day he had to meet a client in her car because she wasn't mobile enough to come into the office.
It was the first time she left the hospital in a year and when Kotzer joined her in a car out front to discuss her will, her hand was out the window, collecting the raindrops that poured down.
"Isn't it a beautiful day?" the woman asked him.
Kotzer said he was shocked.
"We looked at that day as two totally different things. To me it was frustration, work and aggravation, and to her it was probably the most beautiful day that she will see for the rest of her life."
His latest book follows two others, The Family Fight: Planning To Avoid It, and The Family War: Winning the Inheritance Battle, written to help families understand the laws and documents that govern wills and inheritance.
His latest is not in stores yet, but can be ordered by calling 1-877-439-3999, or by visiting the website www.aninheritance.com.
Special for Sun Media readers, if you buy the book before April 15 (2009) you will receive Family Fight, Planning to Avoid It, for free plus shipping.
Kotzer also offers free will reviews in Ontario to make sure that a will is up to date and not a recipe for disaster.
Photos in a drawer
In some cases, the law is not enough to solve inheritance disputes, so Kotzer relies on another route.
He is also a professional songwriter who writes to touch the hearts of people.
"To me, the most important thing is our family and I'm seeing it's being destroyed in front of me. I'm on a mission to save families through inheritance disputes," said Kotzer, who also delivers his message through song.
One of his songs, Photos In A Drawer, is often played while he is doing radio shows.
Sometimes people need to realize what is really important to them, he said.
Kotzer also uses music as a vehicle to compensate for the constraints he feels while working with the law.
For more information, visit www.touchyourheartsongs.com
Top five inheritance disasters
Here are just some of the tales form the book:
1. An 80-year-old man pretended he was deaf so he could hear all the things his family said about him, later announcing he had changed his will because of their derogatory comments.
2. A woman who unexpectedly survived surgery returned home to find her furniture tagged with names of family members who wanted the items.
3. A man took his sister to court over an inheritance dispute. Ironically, when he died she inherited everything because he didn't have any beneficiaries.
4. Two 18 year olds inherited their parents' fortunes, including life insurance, squandered it all, which led to lives of petty crime and bankruptcy.
5. A man inherited his grandfather's 50-year-old heirloom watch, thought to be worth $3,000 back then. When he had it appraised it was valued at only $389.