The process of planning your estate can be a sobering initiative with many benefits. It is an opportunity to:
1. consider the legal steps you can take to best ensure that your wishes and intentions are carried out in the case that you are not able to make decisions for yourself and when you are no longer around to enjoy what you have;
2. consider your values and accomplishments; and
3. take stock of your affairs and organize them.
However, many people stop at the asset management aspect of estate planning and do not give enough thought to the human elements that will impact the success of their planning. Thus, they may consider who has touched their life and whether they wish to leave a legacy for them but fail to have realistic expectations about how well people will get along and interact if they were to become seriously ill or pass away.
It is not unusual for client to choose one child out of 2 or more to be the executor of their estate. This can cause hurt feelings if it is seen as favouritism rather than a good business decision in terms of the abilities of the child that was chosen. It is also not unusual to have an unequal division of property amongst family members. These choices can also cause family feuds if the children do not get along or if the child who was chosen is secretive, would prefer one beneficiary`s interest over another and/or has shown a greedy, selfish, antagonistic personality, especially towards his or her siblings.
Unfortunately, many clients either don`t think it’s important to consider how well their family members get along OR they are not realistic when asked about it. Thus, of my clients who have children that do not get along, many do not mention the fact until I ask them about it. However, the vast majority, when asked, say there is no negative energy amongst family members, everyone gets along and they would never fight over their relative’s estates.
However, the rise in estate litigation shows that the likelihood of family estate disputes is ever increasing. This is for many reasons, including that divorce rates have increased, society is more litigious and there is more information available (through the internet and other means). This rise warrants a more realistic look at family dynamics when planning one`s estate. In response to these claims, I have often asked clients and attendees at seminars “Since so many people say their family is getting along and would never fight over estate assets, where is all of the estate litigation coming from?!” Surely we should consider how many deceased people whose estates are being litigated actually thought they would be litigated or actually believed their family members would fight. Many of them very likely thought it would never happen in their family, too.
In essence, any factors that could or are negatively influencing the relationship among family members should be examined when estate planning. Furthermore, an estate plan should be prepared in the context of family size, history, individual interests, personalities, experiences and values. The financial health or stability of individual family members may also lead to disputes after the provisions of a plan are carried out and should be considered when weighing your options.
Andrea Kelly, Lawyer, has extensive experience in wills, trusts, powers of attorney and estate administration matters. She provides clients with a high standard of timely professionalism and expertise, incorporating a very thorough fact finding process. This is quite often enlightening for her clients and facilitates individually tailored services. If you would like to know more, feel free to use the easy contact form or read Andrea’s bio.