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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Son spies on mother then blasts her for making a will he doesn't like

Yesterday I received a telephone call from a client which both saddened and infuriated me. We had drawn up a will for Mrs. Smith (not her real name, of course), a widowed woman in her mid-80s, a few weeks ago. She had put a great deal of thought and care into the will. As part of her planning, she changed the beneficiary designation on a minor life insurance policy to fund a trust for her grandchildren. It had at one point named her children. All seemed fine.

Yesterday, Mrs. Smith called me to advise that her son (who lives in another province) had phoned her in an absolute fury, He was upset that she had "cut him out of her will", which was by no means the case. He was getting his equal share of the estate, after an equalization for significant properties already gifted to him by his father. When it came to the life insurance policy, he screamed "how dare you change that? It was MINE", The fight got so bad, Mrs. Smith told me, that they have now completely severed ties.

One of the things we had to figure out was how the son was aware of the contents of the documents. Obviously we had not shared them with anyone, and Mrs. Smith said that she had not done so either. Eventually we realized that he had access to her home computer. She had allowed him to install something - she isn't sure what and I'm no techie so I don't know either - that he said would allow him to get into her computer if she ever needed help with it. Apparently he's been using that handy little gadget to look at her emails and documents without her consent.

The sense of betrayal felt by this woman is almost overpowering. She is shocked and saddened beyond belief. The fact that he would invade his mother's privacy this way was contemptible enough, but to then do his best to abuse, bully, and threaten her to arrange her financial affairs to his advantage was even lower. The good news is that she has no intention of allowing his bullying to achieve its goal and he will be lucky to receive anything at all from her at this point.

I realize that many parents reading this post will automatically assume that this could not happen in their families. Believe me, it has come as an eye-opener to Mrs. Smith, too. It happens in more families than you might think. Families of all sizes and arrangements, and of every economic bracket. I urge all parents to take off the rosy glasses when looking at their own children. How are the kids going to react to the contents of your will? What are the longstanding rivalries and clashes? Have you named a strong executor who can stand up to bullies? Should you be using a neutral third party such as a trust company, who will hang up on the likes of Mrs. Smith's son when he calls up in a lather? Should you look at gifting prior to your death? Should your will have a no-contest clause? Can you use trusts to transfer property to avoid a will challenge?

When you have someone in the family who you think is going to be problematic, talk to your estate-planning lawyer about it. Be frank about your concerns. Nobody's judging your family or you; it's all about figuring out how to avoid the drama before it happens.

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