As It Happens

'It was the right thing to do': Why 4 sisters fought their brothers in court over unequal inheritance

When Amar Litt and her sisters took their brothers to court to contest their parents' will, she says they were not asking for a handout — just their fair share of the $9-million estate they helped to build. 

B.C. Supreme Court judge rewrites will that left 93% of $9M family estate to 2 sons

This Richmond farm helped build the Litt family's fortune. (Farms in B.C.)
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Transcript

When Amar Litt and her sisters took their brothers to court to contest their parents' will, she says they were not asking for a handout — just their fair share of the $9-million estate they helped to build. 

When Nahar and Nihal Litt died, they left 93 per cent of the family fortune to their two sons, splitting the remainder among their four daughters.

The daughters argued the will was discriminatory — valuing the brothers more highly because they are men, even though the sisters helped build the family's farm estate in B.C. and cared for their ailing parents before they died. 

The B.C. Supreme Court agreed. Last week, Justice Elaine Adair redistributed the Litt estate, granting 60 per cent, or about $1.35 million each, to Amar and her sisters, and splitting the remaining 40 per cent, about $1.8 million each, between the brothers.

Amar spoke to As It Happens guest host Megan Williams about why she and her sisters fought their own family in court. Here is part of their conversation. 

Why was it important for you and your sisters to take your brothers to court over the family inheritance? 

All of our family — my sisters, my brothers, my parents — we all worked collectively to build our parents' estate.

So for us to go to court was not that we were asking for a handout. It was not like our parents had their lives built, the estate, and then when they were gone, we asked for a part of it. We helped to build it. And we wanted fairness.

We grew up in a home where my sisters and I, we had to struggle for fairness and recognition our whole lives because my two brothers got recognition and praise because they were boys.

The Litts owned a number of farms in Richmond and the Fraser Valley over the years. (Farms in B.C.)

In the will that your parents left, your brothers got 93 per cent of the inheritance. ... Why do you think your parents did that?

My parents were born and raised in India. And even though we were living in Canada, we continued to be raised in the traditional East Indian way of where the daughters don't have freedom, and boys are blessing, and daughters are — I don't want to say disappointment, but yes.

Your brother [Terry Litt] told the court, from what I understand, how he had tried to convince your parents to change the will. Was that any comfort to you?

No, it's not a comfort to me because ... I don't know if that's true. And for me personally, there is no relationship any longer between me and my two brothers. 

We loved our parents. Yes, life was difficult and they were strict — but we are forever grateful and miss them. And we took good care of our parents.- Amar Litt 

Your parents owned and operated several farms in Richmond and in the Fraser Valley in B.C. over the years with an estate of $9 million that was in the will. So these farms were obviously very successful. How key were you and your sisters to that success?

I'm not going to totally discredit my brothers because all of us worked together. We all worked. When we were children, not one of us — not my sisters, not my brothers, not my parents — ever had a summer off.

In the spring, my father would pick us up after school, we would change our clothes and we would go to work on the farm.

There were four girls and there were two boys building that estate.

The judge also pointed out the time and energy you and your sisters spent caring for your parents in the years before their death. Can you tell us about that?

My mom was in and out of hospital in her later years, and it was the daughters that sat beside my mom's bed and spent the nights there in the hospital. And it was myself and my sisters that took care of my father who had Alzheimer's, who took turns taking care of my father.

We loved our parents. Yes, life was difficult and they were strict — but we are forever grateful and miss them. And we took good care of our parents.

You mentioned that it wasn't an easy decision to take your brothers to court or to contest the will in court, especially for a couple of your sisters. Can you tell me about that?

I knew that it was the right thing to do. For my sister who was just a little bit older than me, we knew it was the right thing to do. And my two other sisters ... it was a very, very difficult decision for them.

It was painful to go to court and to have to open up your whole life there in front of your brothers and try to have to justify stuff. They already know. They know that every day that they were working on a farm, we were right there with them. 

We spent our whole lives justifying and trying to get fairness, but that was to parents who were born and raised in India. But my brothers were very young when we came here and we still had to justify. 

Myself and my three sisters would like to say how blessed we are to be in a country and to live in a province that afforded us the opportunity for fairness. Because the only place we were going to get fairness was in a court of law. 

Did you have any qualms about doing it, in terms of knowing that you were going against your parents' wishes?

That will was written in 1993. And I know in my heart — I know, and my sisters know — that had my parents rewritten their wills at some point, it would have been significantly different.

How do you know that?

There were conversations that my parents had with my sisters to say that everything would be divided evenly — and that is why we were disheartened and in shock.

But one of the main reasons also that we went to court was so that other people — and there are many other people in our situation, many Indo-Canadian women, yes, but many other people that are in the same situation where they're not treated fairly either because of their life choices or because they're a boy or a girl  — and we wanted to go to court to try to give other people the courage to step forward and do that.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Bethany Lindsay and CBC News. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong.