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Make Family Day more meaningful than a long weekend

Family Day is always a time of reflection for me. It was eight years ago around this time of year that I lost my husband, far too early. It was a devastating time, both emotionally and also practically, as I dealt with the implications of his death on my financial future.

I wrote about that experience for this blog and as I look back on my experience, that post feels just as timely and relevant today as it did then.

I have to confess, I was ‘fortunate’ under the circumstances. My husband had a valid and current will; our affairs were reasonably straightforward; I had been the ‘chief financial officer’ during our marriage so I was used to managing our finances; I had a good estate lawyer and I had the support of the professionals here at my firm whom I trusted as advisors and friends. In theory, I was well equipped to handle my responsibilities as executor.
The reality though was more challenging: There were important choices to make; some with near-term deadlines and long-term consequences. Taxes and probate fees were higher than expected; the settlement process slower. Family members needed to be consulted. The amount of paperwork felt never-ending and overwhelming. All of this, of course, takes place when one is in the emotionally weakened state of grief (i.e. anxiety, sleeplessness, forgetfulness, etc.)

At the time I encouraged friends to make sure their families’ estate plans were in order. “Bereavement is bad enough,” I said. “You absolutely do not want to go through this without having everything buttoned down.” And while I know some took my advice and acted right away, for others the idea of planning for something that seemed so far away made it easier to push off the planning for another day. As many people did and do.

The most recent statistic I can find today is from a 2018 study by the Angus Reid Institute: the majority of Canadian adults say they do not have a will and, of those who do, only 25% say the document is up to date. That’s shocking really.

A lot can happen that can impact one’s estate over a decade: You start or sell a business. Get married or divorced. You buy or sell a property. Family relationships evolve. Financial circumstances or the health of family members change. The possible consequence of not having a valid and current will is that what you would intend to have happen upon your passing may differ materially from what actually does; leaving your loved ones dealing with a host of thorny issues when they are the very least able to cope.

When I first wrote the blog back in 2012, I had used the example of author, Michael Crichton, who died at age 66 leaving behind a wife who was six months pregnant and an outdated will that had language excluding any new children. A legal fight broke out between family members over whether the baby should be allowed to inherit. The judge ultimately ruled the child should receive its share of the inheritance but it was a stressful and costly experience that could have been avoided entirely. Since then, there have been several other high-profile people who have died intestate including Prince and Aretha Franklin. In the case of Prince, the result was numerous family disputes and even the revocation of a multi-million dollar music deal. The estate of Aretha Franklin has yet to be settled and could take years while being played out in the public domain.

Monday February 18th is Family Day (in three provinces). If you want to do something truly loving for your family this holiday and you do not have a valid and current estate plan, put plans in motion to get one.

Don’t know any estate lawyers? Ask your general counsel for a referral. Or your financial advisor. Or call Newport. We know a number of good estate planning lawyers we could point you to. Just please, make the call.

Planning your estate may not be fun, but it is truly a loving act.