It started as a simple estate plan. The couple, in their early eighties, wanted their three sons to inherit three pieces of land, all with low cost bases and — they thought — equal values.

Then their financial advisor, Morgan Stanley family wealth director Anouchka Balog, noticed that an auto repair shop had once operated on one of the properties. Was the land contaminated with petroleum products? (It was.) Would the heir be able to sell it? (No one knew.) How much less than the initial estimate might the property be worth? (That was difficult to say.)

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