A Family United A Family Divided In The Media

Sun Sentinel

Get Everyone On The Same Page About Inheritances

We're dividing all of Mother's things
Deciding on her rugs and rings
I can't believe what's happening tonight
Can't split a painting on a wall
Or share a table in the hall
I never dreamt that we could fall apart
It would break our mother's heart
Tonight we're in a family fight
And yet as kids we'd talk away the night
But now, we're in a family fight
A family fight

The lyrics of this up-tempo rock song, The Family Fight, are about two brothers who were once close but now are fighting over their late mother's personal items. The words are the inspiration of Les Kotzer, a Toronto lawyer and former amateur lyricist turned pro who is using music to show the tragedy he often sees of families torn apart by fighting over inheritances.

"I think mine is the first musical compact disc prepared by a wills lawyer," said Kotzer, who has been practicing law since 1989 and co-authored the book The Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It in 2002. While the book covered the subject well, "sometimes, though, to bring some people to their senses and to make them realize that the person they are fighting is not a stranger, it takes more than words on a page," Kotzer said. We wrote about Kotzer's book during the holiday season two years ago, hoping its message would encourage readers to discuss -- with candor, love and respect for all family members -- matters about inheritances that would prevent ugly fights later on.

We want to do the same with Kotzer's CD now. For the family elders, with the children and grandchildren often gathered under the same roof during the holidays, this is as good a time as any to talk about their wishes for when they are gone. "I am on a mission to get families to talk before it is too late," Kotzer told us. "I find that one of the major causes of family fighting over inheritance is the lack of communication between parents and children and siblings." Through his practice, "I have seen my share of fighting over inheritance," Kotzer said. "Siblings who were once close no longer speak to each other, and if they do they do so only through their lawyers."

And the bitter fighting often is about seemingly little things, such as who will keep a rug or a painting. Kotzer's two-song CD, titled A Family United, A Family Divided, Songs to Touch the Heart of A Family, was produced in collaboration with Lewis Manne, a professional Canadian musician and composer who wrote the music. (For more information and to hear excerpts, you can go to the Web site www.familyfight.com). Manne also sings the two songs -- Family Fight, in which saxophone and guitar sounds can be heard carrying on the "fight," and Photos in a Drawer, a touch-your-heart musical arrangement by Manne of a poem Kotzer wrote in memory of his mother after she died in 2001:

Photos in a drawer

She kept old photos in a drawer

Faces and places haven't seen for years

All that time erases the laughter and the tears

Photos in a drawer ... Her very special moments

She always thought of them that way. I just wonder where the time went

Oh now I miss these days

"I had walked through her house after she passed away and I opened a drawer and there were all these pictures," Kotzer recalled. "I did exactly what I say in the song, I went on the floor and I took a tour through my past ... The song is meant to get people to open up their family albums and look back at who they were and the memories they shared."

It's a safe bet that Kotzer's CD won't win any Grammys, but it will touch and hopefully open up some hearts. After it was played on ABC radio station affiliate KGO in San Francisco where he was being interviewed, Kotzer said he received more than 600 calls and e-mails from listeners, many telling him they had been inspired to contact a family member they had not spoken to for a while. "The response was overwhelming -- people loved him," said John Rothmann, the talk show host who interviewed Kotzer at the station. "It is not a subject people like to talk about it, but he handles it with sensitivity and the music reveals his soul." "I think I have hit a nerve," Kotzer said. "Hopefully this CD will act as a bridge for communication between family members."

Copyright © Continental Atlantic Publications Inc.