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Mississauga Wills & Estates Law Blog

Managing estate litigation risks with unequal asset distribution

While it is common to leave an equal amount of assets to all children, many have very legitimate reason for favouring some children over others in a will. For example, one might have been a caretaker or have taken less from parents in their lifetime, or perhaps financial need is different. There is legal precedent for such wishes to be fulfilled under Ontario estate law. However, wills with unequal division of assets between children can also become fodder for estate litigation should one of the children call the will into question.

One way to avoid conflict over a will is to clearly communicate the contents of the estate plans to each beneficiary. This can be an awkward conversation, especially with the children who are receiving less. Some experts recommend this, while others say it may be a conversation worth avoiding if it will cause an uproar within the family. In the end, the efficacy of this advice depends on a person's individual situation.

Estate litigation risks in blended or non-traditional families

Deciding the fate of assets can be fairly straight-forward in some families. In others, especially blended families, deciding who gets what can be dicey business. An non-traditional or "modern" family structure does not have to be a recipe for estate litigation, but it can certainly raise questions and, in some cases, conflict. Here are some things for Ontario estate planners and executors to consider when distribution of assets is less clear-cut.

There are many types of families that may end up facing unique challenges in estate planning and administration. These can include blended families, divorced families, cohabiting couples and even polyamorous relationships. The growing diversity in Canadian families is something lawyers who manage estate planning and administration are very aware of, so they often are able to answer questions about how to broach these unique situations. However, estate law itself can be less compatible with these structures, so a written plan is particularly important in these cases.

How beneficiary designations can cause estate administration woes

Designating beneficiaries can often seem like the most straight-forward part of estate planning. However, common mistakes and misunderstandings can make this foundational part of a plan difficult in estate administration. Here are some beneficiary designation issues that can cause estate administration woes for Ontario executors.

It is common for people to state in their will that a specific dollar amount should go to an individual. But what happens if that amount of money is not available? This can become a big issue for executors. It can help to allocate gifts in terms of percentages of net worth, particular trusts or bank accounts. Otherwise, it is vital to ensure the funds are available.

Improper storage of wills can lead to estate litigation

Most people know that having no estate plan can lead to conflict. But what if the will exists but cannot be located, or is located in a place impossible to access? Having an improperly stored will can end in estate litigation for Ontario families.

There are several documents that need to be stored as part of an estate plan, including power of attorney, health care and the will itself. These documents should be in a protected location. Many people choose to keep their estate planning documents with their lawyer, who will store them in a fireproof box. This not only ensures the documents are easy to find and remain in good condition, but also prevents accusations of meddling.

Regular updates to a will can prevent estate litigation

When people consider financial advice, their minds often go immediately to mortgages, investments and lines of credit. But what happens to all those assets and liabilities when an Ontario individual passes away? Keeping an updated will is one of the most often forgotten pieces of financial advice, yet doing so can prevent serious turmoil and even estate litigation within a family.

Keeping an updated will requires much more than drafting the original legal document. It means updating that document regularly and keeping a clear, detailed list of assets. This includes not only major assets like real estate and investment accounts, but also less often remembered items like family heirlooms, digital passwords and pets. All of these can lead to estate litigation if not explicitly dealt with in an estate plan.

Common oversights can lead to an estate administration headache

When executors begin their work, the best thing they can have at their disposal is a solid will and documentation. Unfortunately, even those who take the time to put together estate plans can miss a few common but important details. These oversights can be a significant estate administration burden for Ontario executors, so it is important to keep an eye out for them both when preparing and executing plans.

Personal loans are one of the most common things people leave out of estate planning. For example, when a parent passes away and a child beneficiary still owes them money at the time of their passing, is the loan forgiven or does it come out of the amount the child receives? It is a good idea for a family to discuss these matters openly, especially if there are multiple children with different concepts of fairness.

How to pick a guardian for special needs child in estate planning

It is well known that parents with small children have to make important decisions about who will care for their kids should something happen to them. But what about parents of children with special needs? Whether a special needs child is younger or older, fairly independent or in need of a specialized guardian, Ontario parents of special needs children should take some important steps when planning their family's future.

First, it helps to include as much detail as possible in a letter of intent. Medications, daily routine, calming strategies and health care plans should be included in this letter. Additionally, practical details, such as the passwords to online accounts and personal information, should be provided. Anyone who reads these instructions should be equipped to step in and take over all care that the parents provided, should something happen to them.

Estate administration best practices for pets

Pets can be a complicated topic when it comes to succession and estate planning. Are they an asset or a liability? Who is prepared to care for the pet should something happen to the owner, and how will they afford the associated expenses? Proper planning can help prevent this from becoming an estate administration nightmare for Ontario owners.

It is advisable for estate planners to include details, such as who will care for a pet, in their will. Special requests for this care, and compensation amounts for taking on the responsibility, should also be listed in a care plan. It is important to communicate with the person or people to whom the animal is being left in order to avoid confusion in the estate administration process.

Managing digital assets in estate administration

The rise of digital currency has raised many questions in the financial and legal world. One common discussion involves estate planning and estate administration. How can digital assets, including cryptocurrencies, be transferred in the case of someone's death? Ontario planners and executors alike have many questions about the process of distributing digital assets of an estate.

One controversial piece of advice for planners is to record all accounts and passwords and to store it somewhere safe. While some are concerned this could pose a serious threat should the list be found, others suggest that there are secure ways to save this information. In any case, knowing passwords for centalized systems can be the only way for an executor to access certain digital assets, including loyalty points and cryptocurrency.

Estate administration in blended families

When it comes to wills and estates, it is common for people to leave their assets to a spouse, followed by their children. This traditional structure of passing wealth to children can become complicated in a blended family. While the process of writing and administering a will are similar regardless of family structure, more complex family structures can lead to additional challenges. In these cases, clear consideration and communication are important for seamless estate administration in Ontario.