Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is complicated. My father divorced, then remarried, so ended up
with two families, separated by a twenty-year gap between eldest and
youngest of his children. He died just shy of 100, and, though he was
an amazingly good-spirited person, had some quirks that defy
understanding. One of them was a will that left his assets to his
children, and then, in the event of demise, their children, not his
children’s spouses, and in a ratio of who had provided more
grandchildren. He also invested in real estate, which helped provide for
him and my mother, now deceased, very nicely in their aging years.


Among the four sibs/half-sibs, there are of course four points of view
about what to do. They are roughly: honor his wishes and leave
everything as is, dividing the monthly income from the real estate; sell
everything now quickly before the economy tanks; share the proceeds
only among the children, not the grandchildren; and variations on
these themes. The arguments split between the natural sibs, and a
discussion (that sadly began while we were sitting shiva!) led to such
discomfort that people fled to various rooms of the house. It was
painful and disturbing. Is there a solution that won’t enrich lawyers at
the expense of the family? To make it more complicated, we are
spread among Massachusetts, Montana, Florida, and California, and he
died in New York.


Dear Grieving:

I cannot imagine a solution that does not involve lawyers and that also
changes a hair of what is written down. Frankly, I can’t imagine a
solution that simply enacts what’s written that doesn’t also involve
lawyers, if there are four siblings that don’t agree on simply doing
what your father wanted. I would start with his attorney, who may be
privy to information, and certainly is most well-versed in New York
law, which is operative in this reality.

I’m not only not a lawyer, I have a healthy respect for them. The
easiest path, by my common sense point of view, would be to
distribute all the assets fairly while all four sibs are alive. If there’s an
approach that gives the ones who want cash the money and the ones
who want to manage property, so be it. But if not, then everything
should be monetized (i.e. properties sold, stocks cashed out etc) and
distributed to the four surviving heirs. Then each can work with their
own attorney to determine if their paternal lineage should somehow be
treated differently than other marital assets. If you accomplish this
before any spouse dies (or is killed or maimed in the inheritance
struggle), you’re home free. But common sense and inheritance law
likely overlap in very few places, so my smart money says you are
probably stuck with your father’s will unless, and even if, all the sibs
can agree on how to move forward. May his memory be for a blessing,
and may each of you appreciate him for leaving you an inheritance
instead of debts.