The Importance of Estate Planning

Fights within the family – when estate plans get challenged

Recently, The London Free Press ( published yet another article in regards to the on-going legal drama surrounding the estate of well-known London visual Artist Phillip Aziz. Aziz passed away in 2009, and litigation around his will continues to make headlines.

Aziz’s family has challenged his will, which he revised near his date of death, which left most of his assets to thePhilip Aziz Foundation for Art, a charity which he had set up prior to his death. Further funds were directed towards his caregiver and an ex-girlfriend, according to The London Free Press article. Family members, who were in a previous will, but excluded in the latest will, challenged the legitimacy of the will, and the ensuing battle has continued since.

Aziz’s estate woes underline for me the importance of a few basic guidelines when one plans to leave charitable bequests as part of your estate:

  1. Always ensure you obtain competent legal advice in drafting your will from an estate lawyer. There may be an initial cost, but competent estate lawyers will have spent significant time studying applicable law, and will assist you with expertise to draft a more “ironclad” will than a non-specialist, likely saving your estate more later. Ensure you co-ordinate your efforts with your accountant, investment and insurance specialists, to help ensure everything will transfer as you wish.
  2. Remember that your will is a public document. If you exclude family members, or suspect anyone may take issue with your will, bear in mind they will be able to see your will and may have a legal right to challenge. Talk to your estate lawyer about how to clearly document your intents and wishes, as you won’t be around to explain them should someone challenge your will.
  3. If you are leaving a bequest to a charity as a beneficiary in your will, or via a life insurance policy, make sure you have their proper legal name listed. And, preferably, that you have talked to them in advance to ensure they can accept your gift – as they have every right to refuse your gift. It’s rare, but it can have repercussions to your estate.
  4. Make sure you leave appropriate resources for your dependants. A court can, under Part V of the OntarioSuccession Law Reform Act effectively override registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) and/or registered retirement income fund (RRIF) and life insurance beneficiary designations and redirect the proceeds to your dependants if you have not provided sufficient resources through your will. This could also have repercussions to your estate, and your planned tax reduction strategies if the beneficiary is a charity.
This article has been generously republished from the May 2014 - Ryan Fraser Charitable & Estate Planning Newsletter courtesy of Ryan Fraser, CFP CIM and volunteer with Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. Thank you Ryan.

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