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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Conflict over inheritance can stem from deep underground

It is often said in Minnesota that a family's conflicts over inheritance lie under the surface, but one family's intergenerational business battle is truly subterranean. The heirs of the family that owns one of the most-visited underground caves in the nation has been fighting among themselves in court for years.

The Luray Caverns were discovered in 1878 and quickly became a tourist attraction after railroads made travel easy. In the late 19th Century, partygoers held ballroom dances in its huge underground spaces, surrounded by stalagmites and other bizarre rock formations. In 1905, a man named Theodore Clay Northcott bought the caverns. His six great-grandchildren have been fighting in court over control of the caverns for the past decade.

The caverns are officially recognized as a U.S. Landmark, but they are also a family business run by a family that cannot agree on how to run things. Experts say that some of this conflict was under control by the children's parents, but when they died in 2010 and 2012, the full fury was unleashed. Most recently, in an effort to gain better control of the business, the younger siblings sued to void their older siblings' inheritances. That case was dismissed in February for technical reasons.

Obviously, very few families have a U.S. Landmark to squabble over, but every family has its own difficulties, and many families have assets they would like to preserve for future generations. It is not unusual for families to argue over the best way to pass on these assets to future generations. Sometimes these arguments spill over into legal action.

These cases can be very time-consuming and difficult. The laws of inheritance can be very complicated, and can demand a level head in the middle of a time when family members are feeling very emotional. However, when these cases are handled well, they can help get financial matters out of the way so that families can begin to heal their emotional conflicts.

Source: The Washington Post, "The rift - a family dynasty fights over the future of Luray Caverns," Ken Otterbourg, March 14, 2013.

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