An estate plan should consider more than just how you distribute your assets. It can also include strategies for preserving family values and relationships. This may be important: it isn’t uncommon for even the most harmonious of families to undergo bitter disputes when dealing with the distribution of assets of an estate. As such, the time you invest in planning has the potential to leave a lasting legacy of family harmony. Here are some thoughts:
1. Keep documents updated — Consider reviewing your estate plan periodically to ensure it reflects your current thinking and to avoid future conflict. If you have a Will in place, how old is it? Perhaps this may be a good time for a thorough review of your estate planning documents, especially if circumstances have changed. Equally important: reviewing your designated beneficiaries, where applicable. Many investors fail to revisit these designations to account for major life changes, such as marriage, divorce or the birth of a child.
2. Rely on professional support — Improper documentation or vague instruction can lead to misunderstanding, conflict and even escalate to a costly court battle. While you are able to create estate planning documents on your own, such as by using an online Will service, even if the document is valid, do you fully understand the family and succession laws of your province, or income tax and investment rules? These can change over time and should be evaluated against your estate plan. With the rise in blended families, balancing competing interests from children, stepchildren and a new spouse may be challenging. The support of estate planning professionals can help ensure assets are distributed as intended.
3. Communicate — Sharing your intentions with beneficiaries can help manage expectations and prevent future conflict. While the topic of death is not always easily broached, consider communicating with loved ones while you are alive about your estate. In-depth details do not have to be provided, but high-level conversations can be beneficial to avoid future surprises. These conversations can also help you understand the wishes of loved ones for when you are gone, including for items of sentimental value, which can commonly become the centre of conflict.
4. Understand the implications of joint ownership with children — Joint ownership* is sometimes used to simplify the transfer of assets on death. In certain jurisdictions, it is used to minimize probate fees. Yet, it has the potential to lead to complications, often relating to estate equalization. It is a common cause of stressful lawsuits that will easily surpass the cost of probate — perhaps the exact situation you were trying to avoid in the first place! There may also be unintended consequences, such as tax implications or exposing assets to potential creditors.
5. Consider the support of a professional executor — It may be money well spent to consider a corporate executor. This can help to preserve impartiality if you have children you were considering appointing as executor(s). More important, it can help take the burden off of loved ones during what is often an emotionally difficult time.
Please seek the support of estate planning specialists for your situation.
*Not applicable in the province of Quebec.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 newsletter, "Challenging the Trend." Click here to view.