Keep your eye on the prize (and beware of Karma)!

“There’s no fight quite like a family fight”, and “sibling rivalry is a special kind of conflict”.

I acted in a case where the surviving parent (a father) died and left a Will. The Will made both surviving children, let’s call them “John” and “Jane”, equal executors and beneficiaries to the father’s estate.

John and Jane could have, cooperatively and peacefully, divided the estate between themselves and, as fairy-tales conclude, “lived happily ever after”. That was not to be.

I acted for John.

Their decades-long hostility for each other led Jane to exclude John from any involvement in the probate and distribution of the estate. As John’s lawyer, I needed to ensure that he became and remained involved, and received all his entitlements.

In response to Jane’s obstructionist approach, John responded with equal hostility. The battle raged, with the lawyers (including myself) simultaneously trying to pacify our respective clients whilst arguing with each other to ensure that our respective client’s interests were protected.

Finally, and whilst they refused to resume any familial relationship (despite my efforts to facilitate that), John and Jane agreed on how to (and did) finalize the estate and all matters between them. The matter then concluded.

Until… I received a telephone call from a third party (let’s call him “Robert”) who told me that my client, John, had died. Further, John had left my details as the sole person to contact. However, John did not leave a Will.

I told Robert to contact Jane’s lawyer. Time passed and Robert received no response from Jane’s lawyer. I then saw it as my moral imperative to inform Jane of John’s passing.

And here is the major lesson - always keep your eye on the prize (and beware of Karma). As John’s next of Kin, Jane – with whom John had always fought - would receive John’s entire estate. Jane was then, effectively, receiving the entirety of their father’s estate as John was unlikely to have squandered it since his father’s passing. This is despite John’s firm wishes being for me to passionately argue with Jane over every cent in the estate.

What should John have done? Hugged his sister, spent the money and enjoyed his life.

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