He was a widower with no children, but he was blessed with money, many nieces and nephews — and a unique plan for deciding who should benefit from his generosity.
By the time he was in his mid-80s, his nieces and nephews believed the impression he gave that he had trouble hearing. They gathered often for holidays and family events, and they talked about how much they liked — or disliked — their uncle.
At his 90th birthday party, he stood to say a few words of thanks. "I've been waiting to say these words for the last few years: I can hear perfectly. I have always had perfect hearing, and I have heard everything you have ever said to me and about me."
As a stunned silence swept the room, he proceeded to tell them what he had heard — and later used that information as he prepared his will.
That's one of the stories in a new book by Barry M. Fish and Les Kotzer, "Where There's an Inheritance: Stories from Inside the World of Two Wills Lawyers."
I have previously discussed Les, a wills attorney in Toronto, and his other books, "The Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It" and "The Family War: Winning the Inheritance Battle."
While those books focused on the nuts and bolts of wills and estates and avoiding family inheritance disputes, this new tome gives people a look behind the closed doors of a wills lawyer's office.
"It's seeing life through a different set of eyes," Les says, noting that he is sharing wrenching, touching and funny experiences.
"Through that you will learn what people did right, what some people did wrong, and what mistakes people made."
The book includes plenty of stories about angry family members committing unbelievable acts of rage and revenge. But it also includes some touching moments.
Les says one that touched him personally was the story of a woman named Rachel. She called Les and asked him to help her write a will, but said she had not been out of the hospital for more than a year and likely would die soon. Rachel agreed to find someone to drive her to his office for the appointment — and probably her last trip outside.
The day of the appointment was windy, cold and rainy. Les was swamped with work, got caught in an accident over his lunch hour and was not having a good day. When Rachel arrived, he went out to the van she traveled in and saw her looking out the window, beaming, as she watched the rain.
"Then she turns to me and says to me, 'Mr. Kotzer, isn't it a beautiful day?' Here I was hating that day, and here's a woman who's dying telling me, 'Isn't it a beautiful day?' I thought, if people hear a story like that, it may change their lives, and help them appreciate the days that they have," Les says.
Whether the stories are touching or horrifying, he says, they can be instructive for people who are planning the disposition of their estates. And Les says he has seen more interest in such planning since the economy turned sour.
"With the recession happening, there are a lot of kids moving back home," he says.
"I was on a (radio) show where a woman calls me up and says, 'You've got to warn all parents out there about their own children.' … You've got to be careful."
Les says the book may serve as a wake-up call for people.
"Secrecy is not golden," he says. "Talk to your kids. Talk to your parents. Get these things worked out now. … And do the proper documents. Understand what these things mean."
Les says people who want to buy a copy of the book can call 877-439-3999 or go online to www.inheritancestories.com.
And whatever else you do, plan now to make sure your own experiences are more touching than scary.
If you have a comment or question about estate planning or a different personal finance issue, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.