All About Estates

As (More and More) Time Goes By…

It’s that time of year when we are once again reminded of how quickly time flies.  The start of school signals the end of yet another summer.  And it doesn’t just signal the onset of shorter days and colder weather, but it also reminds us that soon we will be celebrating the start of a new year.  With that often comes the realization that many of those items on our “to do” lists remain unaccomplished.  As do those of our clients.

As advisors, we are all wary about unfinished or languishing files. Planning is just that – prospective, rather than retrospective. And yet, we are often not in a position to compel timely completion of our client mandates.  We can coax, encourage, remind and stress the importance of, but at the end of the day, the ultimate decision to complete a client’s planning rests solely with the client, and some are better than others at tending to their own affairs.  This is not to suggest that clients do not have good reasons for delays in completing their planning.  For some, life is just too busy and interferes. For others, the topic is a sensitive one or the planning objectives are complex and require longer to formulate.

The potential problems with incomplete mandates are exacerbated even more when clients are frail or elderly. Medical issues may then intervene to further complicate matters. We all dread getting that phone call that informs us that a particular mandate has come to an end… but not for the hoped for reasons.

What should advisors do to protect against a suggestion that completion of the matter “took too long”?  And how long is too long?  Should periodic correspondence be sent to clients reminding them of outstanding matters, or will that just appear pushy and put strain on the advisor/client relationship?  Is a note in the file of all reminders, both written and by telephone, to the client sufficient to protect against allegations of undue delay?  Should advisors insist on periodic meetings to ensure that the planning process continues to move along? Does the response to this question depend on the circumstances?  Can an advisor import his or her own sense of urgency into dictating the pace at which the matter should proceed?

It would be a rare advisor who would be able to honestly say that no file has ever taken “longer than it should have” to be completed. Nonetheless, as planning continues to get more complicated, it will inevitably require more time to implement.  I think it is fair to say that there is no clear answer to the questions posed, and no specific protocol that works in all cases.  In its most basic form, the best advice that we can heed as advisors is to “proceed with all due haste”.

About Maureen Berry
Maureen Berry is a partner in the Trusts, Wills, Estates and Charities group at Fasken. Maureen’s practice is focused on wills, estate planning, domestic and international trusts, private corporation taxation, and executive compensation. Maureen also advises charities and non-profit organizations. Working with Canadian and international families, firms, corporations and charitable organizations, she provides advice on all aspects of private client matters. She is a leading expert in the fields of tax law and estate planning. As an Adjunct Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, she teaches Advanced Estate Planning. Maureen has previously taught corporate tax and international tax at the University of Toronto and Western University, along with the Bar Admission course for up-and-coming lawyers.

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