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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.

One piece of advice that can apply to everyone planning a will, especially one that is complex or has unequal asset distribution, is to have a frank conversation with a lawyer about the issue. Clearly stating wishes to the person responsible for beginning estate administration proceedings can help to validate the choices. This conversation should happen early and clearly to avoid the conception that minds were changed last minute due to meddling or inappropriate pressure.

An unequal estate plan can lead to tension in a family, but this is not always the case. In some instances, it is clear to all involved that the distribution of assets is fair even if it isn't equal in amounts. However, if such a will does lead to estate litigation, it is important that all parties are represented by an Ontario lawyer who can help clarify the validity of plans and legal grounds for calling them into question.

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