09/15/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

There's One in Every Family.... Part 2

Welcome back.

In my last blog, I was discussing how litigants in estate fights revert back to the roles that they played in the family throughout their childhood. I discussed the Aggressive One and the Controller last time. This time, I look at a couple more personalities typically found in a "Family War".

The Victim
Where there is an Aggressive One or a Controller, there is usually a Victim, who bears the brunt of such conduct. In many families, the Victim is often the younger sibling, who was never able to stand up to her more aggressive siblings. The Victim's desires were often overshadowed by her dominant siblings. For example, when the family decided where they were going on vacation, the Aggressive One convinced the parents to go where he wanted to. The Victim was dragged along on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when what she really wanted to do was go to Myrtle Beach.
In a Family War, The Victim is often taken advantage of and may come away from the estate with less than he or she is entitled to. The Victim may not be willing to stand up to his or her siblings.
The Victim's spouse plays an important role in an estate battle. I will discuss that later.

The Preferred Child
The Preferred Child feels as if he is the only child Mom ever loved. He believes that because of his "special bond" with Mom, he should get her most prized possessions. He may assert claims to those possessions, even though Mom's Will does not refer to them.

The Black Sheep
The Black Sheep never felt fully part of the family. For this reason, he may not be concerned about the effect of a Family War on his siblings and may be more willing to risk it all to get what he wants.

The Peacemaker
The Peacemaker is often caught in the middle of a Family War. There is nothing more important to The Peacemaker than "the family". I find it is often a daughter who is the Peacemaker and many times, a middle child.

A client of mine was the only daughter in a family with three other brothers. Two of her brothers were Aggressive Ones. Her other brother was a Victim. She found herself embroiled in a bitter family dispute after the death of her mother.

My client understood the points of view of each of her brothers. She knew what caused their flashes of anger; knew intimately the gaps in their memories; and knew when and how to fill in those gaps. She was able to bring to life happier times from their collective youth, both with her descriptions and with the photographs that she shared with them.

Among the many skilful steps she took was to suggest to all of her brothers that their issues be dealt with internally and that all in-laws, including their wives, be barred from dealing with any estate matters. She had earned the respect of her brothers, and they agreed to follow her advice on many points. They listened to her, even though there remained areas where they disagreed. What she managed to do was to turn their minds to the value of a family relationship. She was able to draw to their attention that a fight would not only have a monetary cost, but a heavier price as well, being the loss of family. She made it clear to them that a fight might result in a new generation growing up without the bond that a family should have. She imparted to them the value of "us" as opposed to "me." She reminded her brothers that Mom would have been horrified to see her children fighting amongst themselves.

She was able to show her brothers that each had a point and that there are at least two sides to every story. She was able to defuse some of their feelings of anger by blaming the "system," instead of one brother blaming another.

What she was able to accomplish was to change an altercation that was destined for court into a manageable compromise. Without her involvement, the fight between her brothers would likely have pushed them apart and destroyed the family.

The Peacemaker is used to dealing with anger from his or her siblings. She knows what it's like to be caught in the middle. She may not like the role, but it is something she's done all her life and feels that she is doing it in the best interests of the family.


One note of caution: Although you think you really know your siblings, you may be wrong.

I've had cases where the Victim develops a backbone because of the support of his lawyer or because he realizes that this is his last opportunity to stand up for himself.

Sometimes, the Aggressive One will want to settle because he runs out of steam having underestimated the draining nature of estate litigation.

You may have been counting on The Peacemaker to intercede. However, she may feel that she has done enough during Mom's lifetime.

Although intimate knowledge of your siblings can help, in my experience you shouldn't base your whole strategy on what you expect your sibling to do.

In my next blog- how spouses can help or hinder in a "Family War".