Up to his final moments of mental clarity, Yuli Ofer sought to prevent his children from fighting over their inheritance. Now it's clear his efforts failed, and the ensuing conflict between Leora and Doron Ofer is endangering the family's controlling stake in Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot.
Ofer died in September at the age of 87. The final version of his will was signed in November 2008. It contained a significant change from the previous version, signed that April: He left most of his assets, including his share in Ofer Brothers Investments, to his daughter, Leora. Doron's inheritance was sharply reduced.
A family friend said the change was intended to leave the children on equal footing, since Doron Ofer already had plenty of his own business interests. Yet one of Yuli Ofer's associates said that was not the reason. Rather, the father was upset by how his son behaved regarding all matters related to the family business, particularly his resistance to changes at Mizrahi-Tefahot.
Ofer Brothers Investments controls dozens of companies through chains of subsidiaries. Some of the best known include Melisron (71.5% ), whose holdings include the Ramat Aviv Mall and the mall company British Israel (71.5% ); Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank (19.8% ); and Ofer Brothers Shipping (98% ).
"Yuli knew when he wrote the previous will that Doron had already received more from him, so why did he change his mind? I believe the only explanation is that Doron irritated him by not cooperating with the families' wishes regarding Mizrahi-Tefahot," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.
The issue was the Bank of Israel's demand that Ofer Investments reduce its leverage and separate its holding in Mizrahi-Tefahot from its mall and real estate investments as a condition for maintaining control of the bank. These changes were intended to make the Ofers' holding in Mizrahi-Tefahot more stable.
Yet the changes never went through, reportedly due to Doron Ofer's objections. The new structure would give the company an especially large tax burden, he argued.
This angered his father, said family associates. The elder Ofer was clear-minded when he wrote the will, they said. As late as 2010, he would visit bank headquarters to see how things were going. When he was no longer able to make the trip, bank chairman Jacob Perry would visit Ofer at his home to brief him.
Associates of Doron Ofer say the last version of the will was written after Yuli Ofer became ill and was no longer clear of mind. Doron Ofer also reportedly objects to his sister's intent to appoint attorney Zvi Efrat as executor of their father's estate. Due to his objection, the issue will now be settled in family court.
One person who was present at the signing of Ofer's final will was Iscar chairman Eitan Wertheimer. Yuli Ofer asked that he serve as a witness, he said. Two doctors were also present, he said. "I'm not a medical expert, but he seemed to be entirely with it and he knew exactly what he wanted. He was completely lucid," said Wertheimer.
Wertheimer said he believed Ofer changed his will because Doron Ofer already had many successes to his name, and he wanted his daughter to follow in his footsteps as well. "He was very proud of both of them," Wertheimer said.