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Greed in Estate Disputes | My Brother’s Keeper


Yogi Berra puts it well: “It’s like déjà
vu all over again.” Yogi really has a way with words. OK, so Yogi is a little redundant. But we get the point. It’s like I’ve seen this before. I’ve already had this experience. I’m familiar with this. I’ve heard this story before. So, when do I experience this? I’m at my office. We get a call, or maybe it’s an email. It concerns the story of a parent. And, often a sibling. The parent’s story is one of vulnerability
and a property taking. The parent may be alive. If alive, likely isolated. If dead, the outlines of an estate fight are
coming into view. The caller’s sibling has taken their parent’s
estate. Circumstances are similar. It really doesn’t matter if it’s in Sacramento,
LA or the Bay Area. There’s been parental isolation. There’s secrecy. There are property transfers to one sibling. There’s greed. There’s avarice. There is likely malice. Vanity. A selfish child. And, I suppose – a life-changing and damaging
oversight. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole
world, yet forfeit his soul?” So, back to Yogi Berra. “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” I’m in a California Superior Court courtroom. Another one of our litigators accompanies
me. It’s a mandatory settlement conference. An “MSC.” We sit with our clients. The defendant or respondent sits with his
or her attorney. Or, maybe I’m at a Northern or Southern
California office of a large mediation, arbitration and ADR service company. There are many. Among them JAMS, ADR Services, Inc., Signature
Resolution, and ARC Alternative Resolution Centers. Of course, there are also impressive individual
lawyers, like Ed Corey, who are masterful mediators. In any event I’m with my clients. The opposing attorney, defendant or respondent
likely sit in a separate room. The stories are so similar. So familiar. A daughter, one of three siblings, isolates
her mother from her mother’s other children. She’s moved her mother from her home. From her familiar surroundings. Her mother’s long-held estate plan providing
for an equal split among siblings is changed to benefit the child who causes the isolation. The child helps to arrange any meetings with
the drafting lawyer. Properties, often valued in the millions,
end up in the hands of the wrongdoer. She doesn’t want to let any of it go. We really don’t know her primary motivator
– is it her love of money or hatred for her siblings? Whatever it is, it looks ugly. It’s disheartening. It’s that simple. There are so many ways that this plays out. Maybe it’s a life insurance policy. Again, with the same type of changes. A policy made to benefit all children changed
to benefit only one. Or maybe it’s a house transfer. A parent who doesn’t know that their house’s
title has been changed to the name of one of her children or one of her children’s
spouses. It might be a caregiver who engineers the
changes. However, done, it gets back to greed. What does greed look like? Insead, one of the world’s leading business
schools, provides some answers. They’re the focus of an article – “Seven
Signs of the Greed Syndrome.” In the words of the article, the warning signs
of uncontrolled greed include: 1. “Overly self-centered behaviour becomes
the first give-away of greedy people. Greedy people are always saying “me, me,
me” with very little regard for the needs and feelings of others. 2. Envy and greed are like twins. While greed is a strong desire for more and
more possessions (such as wealth and power), envy goes one step further and includes a
strong desire by greedy people for the possessions of others. 3. Greedy people lack empathy. Caring—being concerned about the feelings
of others—is not part of their repertoire. As such, they have little qualms about causing
pain to others. Their inability to empathise, their lack of
genuine interest in the ideas and feelings of others, and their unwillingness to take
personal responsibility for their behaviour and actions makes them very difficult people
to be with. 4. They are never satisfied. Greedy people look at the world as a zero-sum
game. Instead of thinking that everyone would benefit
as the pie gets larger, they view the pie as a constant and want to have the biggest
part. They truly believe that they deserve more,
even if it comes at someone else’s expense. 5. Greedy people are experts in manipulation. They are highly talented in taking credit
for work done by others. They can be charming, but their principal
agenda is to have people around them that feed their ego. 6. Greedy people are into the short run; they
are focused on satiating their immediate needs and leave it to others to cope with the consequences… 7. In the pursuit of their material needs, they
know no limits. Greedy people are not good at maintaining
boundaries. They will compromise moral values and ethics
to achieve their goals. They look for loopholes or clever ways to
outsmart the rules and regulations that have been put into place to moderate this kind
of behaviour.” The article notes that greedy people “need
to become acquainted with what is really essential in life such as love, emotional intimacy,
unconditional acceptance (and self-acceptance), and ‘rich’ satisfying relationships.” And, I note, the lesson of Cain and Abel from
Genesis is worth remembering. The better answer to “Am I my brother’s
keeper?” is yes. It is truly tragic to see the natural bond
between siblings broken. To see greed and its toxic poison. At Hackard Law we litigate estate, trust and
elder financial abuse disputes. And while some disputes are relatively civilized
and rest upon a mutual desire toward reasonable resolution, others have battle lines drawn
by actions of greedy wrongdoers. While I love my career, I wish that my clients
didn’t have to suffer from their sibling’s wrongdoing. Or a caregiver’s taking. Or a host of other causes that result in the
need for judicial intervention. I’m sure that the devoted emergency room
doctor, while in the helping profession, wishes that part of her work was unnecessary – unnecessary
because people weren’t abusing drugs or alcohol, driving negligently or shooting or
abusing each other. At Hackard Law we take significant cases where
we think that we can make a substantial difference and there is a wrongdoer who can be made financially
accountable for their wrongdoing. We focus our geographic practice on California’s
largest urban areas, including Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Mateo and Sacramento
Counties. We speak with people who want to talk to us
about their cases in matters related to estates, trusts and elder financial abuse. If you’d like to speak with us about your
case, call us at 916 313-3030. We’ll be happy to hear from you.

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