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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Five ways to avoid a family blowout after you've died

The Financial Post recently carried a brief but important article about steps you can take to prevent leaving an estate dispute for your family to figure out after your death. I say that this article is important, because I've been asking clients for many years now what they want to achieve with their estate planning. By far the most common answer I receive is that they "don't want the kids to fight".

To read the tips given in the Financial Post article, click here.

You'll note that the first step suggested is to think through what you want to achieve. This sometimes intimidates people simply because they don't know all the answers. However, knowing what you want doesn't necessarily mean you have to figure out the answer, as long as you can articulate the question. For example, when you see a lawyer about getting your documents prepared, you don't have to say "I need a trust to look after my children until they are 21". All you need to know is that protecting the children is your goal. You can decide on the mechanics of doing that once you've heard all the options and feel that you're fully informed.

When you see a lawyer about estate planning, you're not simply telling someone what to put in a document. What you should expect from the meeting is information, suggestions, ideas, and advice. In a typical estate planning meeting, my clients usually say "I didn't know I could do that" at least once. So go into the meeting with an attitude of exploration and curiosity, and if you need time to go home and think over the options, do that.

The second step suggested in the article is to talk to your family about your plans. This doesn't necessarily mean asking for approval or even for input. If you'd like to consider having a family meeting but you don't know where to start, pick up a copy of my book called Estate Planning Through Family Meetings (Without Breaking Up the Family). Here's a preview of it in case you're wondering what's in it.

The final step recommended in the article is to choose an executor. This is where an awful lot of people make a huge mistake. Rather than choosing one of your kids simply because you think making another choice would upset someone, think about who can actually do the job. Don't choose someone who can't get along with the others, or who has a long-standing rivalry with one of the others. Don't choose someone who lacks the ability to handle money, or who is lazy or cuts corners. This is a JOB you're filling, not an honour you're conveying, so pick wisely. Consider using a trust company if it's going to be too tough on your spouse or kids.

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