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Five Mistakes in Estate Planning May Lead to Breach of Family Harmony

Beneficiaries – The Financial Post’s recent article entitled “Avoid these five mistakes when estate planning to preserve family peace” provides us with some of the biggest mistakes:

  1. Treating family members differently. People do this frequently. They may have valid reasons for doing so. However, it’s still not a great idea. Instead, comfortably tell your children in advance why you’re doing this. This will avoid anger and jealousy between the children when they discover this. Try to leave assets equally, even if you don’t think it is fair.
  2. Pass the family vacation home to multiple children. It’s best to either sell the home in your later years or, if you keep it, make sure it is openly discussed. You might set up life insurance to specifically pay taxes and perhaps one or two children, so the remaining children can afford to keep the cottage. Even so, a sale is the cleanest approach.
  3. Don’t tell the children anything about your money. Not a good idea. This approach often eliminates any ability to understand what might be most meaningful to your children or beneficiaries. Maybe less so in terms of cash, but in terms of family heirlooms or property. Perhaps a favorite piece of furniture was really important to two children, but there was never any discussion about it. As a result, it’s now completely left to them to fight over. This may sound like a small issue. However, many families have split up forever over just this type of scenario.
  4. Purposely or inadvertently leaving most or all assets to a new spouse. It can occur by accident due to poor planning around ownership titles, lack of pre-nuptial agreements or the unintended naming of beneficiaries on investment accounts or life insurance. However, sometimes, it’s meant to hurt the children. The hurt can certainly go both ways and is frequently a major issue when a spouse isn’t treated fairly. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to walk through this with you.
  5. Significant charitable giving. If your gifts to charity aren’t discussed with your so-called traditional beneficiaries, there can be conflicts with the charity that can be drawn out.

Communicate what you’re doing and why to your family.

Reference: Financial Post (Nov. 9, 2022) “Avoid these five mistakes when estate planning to preserve family peace”