This post was written by Diana Leopardi
It’s March 15, 2050, Eric Smith dictates an email reply to an asynchronous based mediation regarding an estate settlement issue. He then voice activates his favorite Spotify playlist and prepares to video chat his sister who lives across the country. In a couple of hours, he will have to log onto the virtual courtroom, along with all of his siblings to review the proposed offer and negotiate a final settlement.
With the COVID pandemic having pushed everyone towards a new virtual reality, perhaps we need not wait until 2050 for this scenario to materialize. Imagine a situation where an estate settlement dispute arises and all can be resolved without ever physically leaving your home.
In this fictive example, Eric and his brother David, live in Montreal, while his other siblings, sister, Clara lives in Vancouver and sister, Lila lives in California. The testator, their late mother, was a resident of Quebec and she has named Eric, Lila and a corporation as Executors to her estate.
The appointment is sure to conjure mixed feelings amongst the surviving family members; why her, not me? Thus creating animosity even before beginning the estate settlement process. Once animosity exists trust and intentions are immediately questioned.
What if there was a possibility to consult a mediator or representative to help resolve disputes that arise from estate settlement? What if this facilitator can help provide a open forum to discuss unsettled points or disputes? Ultimately, the family would be able to resolve their issues quicker and without incurring legal costs or having to wait 18 months to obtain a court hearing date. What would this new settlement process look like?
To begin, all parties would meet via virtual call/setting for an official reading of the Will and express any comments or concerns. The facilitator would then continue the conversation with each party offline in an asynchronous manner. The facilitator would provide an approximate timeline for each party to submit any arguments or concerns along with a deadline for such submissions. Having the discussion in this manner would empower each beneficiary to express their concerns on their own schedule and in the comfort of their own home, without the stress and anxiety of having to displace themselves in a courtroom-like setting as estate disputes may get emotional at times. Once the deadline has lapsed, the facilitator may decide to share some common findings, allow for replies or propose another virtual call or recommend a solution.
Those are just the preliminary family issues. What about the actual estate settlement? Settling an estate is an extraneous task on a good day, imagine settling an estate during the covid era where many tasks have been digitalized, think about filing taxes, requesting a clearance certificate, communicating and canceling services, even planning a virtual funeral! Navigating these various channels can be difficult and frustrating, it is important to keep in mind the capacity and agility of the person you are naming as your Liquidator/Executor.
As we move into a new technical world, this new world may include virtual or nontangible assets as well as reconstructed families and colorful family dynamics. It is important to carefully plan one’s estate and to choose an adequate Liquidator/Executor. Appointing someone in the family may not be interpreted as bestowing an honor but rather a hardship. It is a difficult task and engages personal liability. For those who have accepted this appointment know that there is professional help and resources accessible to you and some institutions have already started to implement changes to adapt to this new reality. For those who are in the stages of planning, know that there are professionals who can assist you or provide you with expertise you would not have otherwise had. There is no cost in asking and the answer may save you money or salvage a relationship.