This Blog was written by Emily Racine, Estate and Trust Consultant with Scotia Wealth Management
There is no doubt that a will is a deeply personal and intensely private document. Your estate plan may not be something you wish to share with the public at large. However, are there certain people you should share your estate plan with while you are still alive? What are the potential pitfalls of keeping the contents of your will private until your death?
It is understandable that testators want to keep private information private – even from family members. However, when we are speaking about an estate plan, sometimes privacy needs to take a backseat to planning
In my experience as an estate planner, one of the best ways of avoiding family conflict and encouraging a smooth estate administration is ensuring that all family members know ahead of time what their parents’ estate plan is. The highest chance for conflict, in my opinion, is when the will is read after the death of a parent and the children are surprised by what they read. Having a family meeting now to ensure the beneficiaries are on the same page can save your executor and your family from a breakdown later.
As a parent, you may think it is obvious why you chose one child instead of the others to act as executor. A testator may think it is clear why the house is being given to one sibling and the cottage to another. However, the only way to ensure your intentions are properly expressed is by having those conversations during your lifetime. This also gives your children a chance to express their feelings on your estate plan.
I frequently hear testators say that it is “none of my children’s business” how I structure my estate. That is absolutely true. A testator has the freedom to dispose of his or her estate however they want, within reason. Further, a testator should not be bullied into changing their estate plan by upset potential beneficiaries. On the other hand, even if a beneficiary is upset, it is more cathartic for them to be able to express this in a healthy way while everyone is alive rather than piling that resentment on top of grief and letting it explode into conflict after the funeral.
Talking about death is almost everyone’s least favourite topic. Expanding these conversations to include your children and family members can be awkward, uncomfortable, and sad. However, it gives family members a chance to process their emotions and to express their concerns. It gives times for emotions to run their course when beneficiaries aren’t dealing with the loss of a loved one. It makes sure that, at a time when emotions are running at their highest level, a new surprise is not thrown into the mix.
An estate plan is deeply personal and full of sensitive information. It makes sense that one’s instinct is to protect this plan from the prying eyes of the public and of the family. However, the consequences of a private estate plan can include confusion and anger when the times comes that the will is revealed. Consider speaking with your children and beneficiaries before death about your estate plan to help minimize some of these potential conflicts. Your executor will thank you.