FP Answers: Should I review my will beforehand with beneficiaries and all others involved?

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By Julie Cazzin with Ed Olkovich

Q: It seems to me that a lot of issues can be averted beforehand by the person making a will if they review it with all involved. My father doesn’t think so. (Mom died 15 years ago). He has rewritten his will and told his four kids that he will not be revealing any information in the will with any of us. We will find out when he’s deceased. I’m trying to decide which option is best since I, too, will be writing a new will at the end of the year. Any advice? — Eva

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FP Answers: Eva, every family is different. Some families share the contents of their wills and some do not. Families can share details of who owes what to the parents. I have seen this kind of detail shared annually on a spreadsheet. This way, everyone knows what each sibling owes to the Bank of Mom and Dad.

You are free to make your will as you see fit, but only after you satisfy your legal and moral obligations. Obtain legal advice about your obligations since your responsibilities will change. Here are a couple of tips to consider.

Family meetings: Unless family meetings to share information are normal practice, they can create problems, not prevent them. Disputes can arise in meetings that no one is prepared to resolve or even talk about. Sometimes, health or substance abuse issues may be factors and once they are out in the open, it may be difficult to put these issues back into any box.

A power vacuum is created when a person dies for their peace keeping and decision-making roles. Into this vacuum may enter an estate executor, charitable beneficiary or siblings, and each will have their own agenda. Their approach may be based on past meetings with the deceased that may not be current, legally binding or in the will. This can create friction.

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Unique family assets: Special assets may require discussion. Who will run the restaurant, take care of the pets or manage the out-of-town vacation property? Professional neutrals acting as mediators can help conduct family meetings. This investment may be worthwhile and necessary with blended families or where there are valuable assets and no prenuptial agreement.

It’s also possible that some family members may cause unnecessary grief once details of the will are revealed. This can force families to reconsider their plans. So, some meetings can create stress that may be impossible to smooth over.

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Let’s say someone is 85 years old and selling their home to downsize. Meetings in this situation can damage family relationships. You may be surprised that anyone can make claims to enforce promises after you are gone. But it happens.

So, if your family customarily holds meetings, you may be able to share information respectfully. But be prepared for more than a simple debate over a will.

Ed Olkovich is a Toronto lawyer and certified specialist in estates and trusts law. This information is not legal advice. Discover more at MrWills.com

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