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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.

Recording wishes is not the only challenge in a modern family structure. So, too, is communicating wishes with others. Many blended families have more potential beneficiaries and ideas about what is "fair," so failing to communicate wishes to all may lead to conflict after one dies. While a family meeting with all involved may not be in the cards, ensuring wishes are clear to everyone can prevent later questions and legal challenges.

Unsurprisingly, more complicated estates do tend to lead to estate litigation more often in Ontario. Complexity can come from the number of assets, the organization of these assets, lack of clarity in estate plans, or contestation from those who feel they are rightly owed something. Those who are facing such cases should contact a lawyer to understand how estate law may play out in relation to their family structure.

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