It's a high-stakes multi-million-dollar sibling rivalry that reads like a Hollywood movie script and is playing out in a federal courtroom in Covington. And an end to the nearly 20-year drama may be just six months away, as a judge set a trial date for early May 2015 in the case that pits brothers against sisters, who allege they were cheated out of their family's fortune.
Yesterday and today have been “big rich” days. Sibling rivalries aren't just for school-aged children. Estates can stir up fights among family members if handled the wrong way. The old saying is “you never know someone until you share an inheritance with them.”
In recent news, four sisters allege that their three brothers improperly cut them out of their proper inheritance.
John Griffin founded his family business, Griffin Industries, in 1943. The meat-processing company eventually grew into one of the largest privately held corporations in Kentucky. However, when Griffin passed away, his children started fighting over the company. There is a truism here, that the death of the senior family member creates a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. Relationships that are held steady are cast adrift when the lynchpin at the center is gone. With the Griffin family, as with so many families, some of the children were active in the business, and some were not. It is not unusual that a war developed, it is actually rare when the war doesn’t develop.
As an example, a judge recently determined that the Griffin brothers breached their fiduciary duty to the sisters. Now, after nearly 20 years, a trial date is expected to be set for next January as reported by WCPO in "Family feud: Griffin Industries inheritance fight still going strong after 19 years; could end soon."
First, I apologize that when you click the link above, the site wants your email address to let you read the story and see the video, but most of us have a separate email address just for this purpose. As to the case itself, most of the documents in this case have been filed under seal, (that means the family doesn’t want you to know what they are fighting about -- money and power) so we do not know exactly how to assess this particular battle. Nevertheless, these types of family feuds over the “business” are “business as usual.”
Passing on a business to the next generation requires proper planning. If you have one child and that child is active in the business, you have a better chance than those families with several children, only part of whom are active in the business.
The founder’s intentions need to be absolutely clear in the estate plan. If possible, they need to be implemented prior to the founder’s death, and the non-active family members need to be otherwise provided for. If that isn’t possible, then at least the next generation should be informed of these intentions and the estate plan to implement them.
That gives the surviving family members time to prepare to run the company and lessens the likelihood of future fights. An experienced estate planning team, including attorneys, CPAs, management experts, families that have been through this who can act as sounding boards and advisors are all critical and can help increase the odds that everything runs smoothly, preserving both the business and the family.
Reference: WCPO (November 13, 2014) "Family Feud: Griffin Industries inheritance fight still going strong after 19 years; could end soon