FROM ADVOCATE DAILY: Good estate plans involve open communication


Communication is vital when preparing a will

From AdvocateDaily this week:

Having an open discussion with family members, beneficiaries and intended executors is an important part of preparing an estate plan in order to minimize conflict, reduce expenses and meet the testator’s intentions, Ottawa family law and estate lawyer Timothy N. Sullivan says in a recent Caregiving Matters podcast.

As Sullivan, principal of SullivanLaw, says in the interview, one of the main legal issues that families face when someone dies is trying to respect the deceased’s intentions.

“The family will have to go through a process of grieving, dealing with the funeral and the burial … The issue that they hand to lawyers at some point is ‘what now’. The ‘what now’ when it comes to the lawyer’s point of view is ‘where’s the will?’”

For testators, he recommends taking the time during the estate-planning process to communicate this information to family members, beneficiaries and executors.

To read the rest of the article, visit AdvocateDaily.

WILLS & ESTATES: Tips for disbursing household possessions


Wills and estates household possessions


How to make it easier to organize and allocate household ‘stuff’ when a parent has died

When people think about being an executor of a will, they often focus on the administrative part: Making sure they know where the will is, meeting with the lawyer, contacting beneficiaries, ensuring the paperwork is completed and filed properly, etc.

But in fact for many people, the more time-consuming – and sometimes headache-inducing – part of the process is going through the family home and determining what should be done with all the stuff that a person accumulates in 75 or 80 years of life.

Even if your parents (because it’s usually the adult children of the deceased who are tasked with this) had recently downsized and don’t have a huge basement of childhood gear to wade through, chances are they’ve got several rooms’ worth of furniture, several cupboards’ worth of china and kitchen tools, and several boxes worth of artwork and knickknacks. Some of it is nice, some of it is serviceable, and some of it should go directly to Goodwill.

But how do you manage it so that (a) everyone who wants one can receive some kind of memento; (b) the estate is compensated fairly for any items of high value; and (c) the process doesn’t start some kind of family feud because Aunt Mabel didn’t get that vase she’s always said she wanted?

Here are some tips:

Communicate with beneficiaries promptly and clearly. While executors are supposed to give notice to beneficiaries in certain ways and at certain times, the reality is that additional phone calls or emails to beneficiaries, keeping them up to date on the progress of probate or disbursements or tracking down a long-lost beneficiary can prevent family resentment later.

Get an independent appraisal. Pay a local antique dealer (typically $500-$1000, depending on the amount of stuff) to give you high-level values for everything in the house, from that supposedly-fantastic artwork in the living room to the set of pots under the sink. Make it clear that the appraisal will not lead to the dealer actually handling any sales, which will help ensure the values are realistic.

Make the appraisal list available to beneficiaries or people like Aunt Mabel. If that vase was appraised at $1200, it may be more than a memento – it may be an asset, and therefore not something you can just let her have when she stops by to help you clean out the house. Showing her some paperwork from an expert helps ensure no one (including Aunt Mabel) takes it personally when you’re firm about not letting people casually remove things from the home.

Invite children, grandchildren and other relatives to choose one item first. One of my clients invited all the kids and close relatives to their deceased parents’ home a couple of weeks after the funeral, and asked each of them to write down the one item they wanted, and one alternate. (All items had been assigned a value by a local auction dealer.)

The amazing result was that everyone got the item they wanted, and no one went away upset. Everyone felt like they’d gotten the one ‘special item’ they wanted, and the rest of the items were distributed without sowing the seeds of a long-term family dispute.

Insist that higher-end items are purchased from the estate – not given away unilaterally. When Grandma or Grandpa dies, there’s often a late-model car automobile left in the garage, and a grandchild or two who could use a vehicle to get to school or work.  Unless there is specific direction in the will, assets like this should be sold by the estate and the proceeds shared among the beneficiaries as outlined in the will. Sure, the grandchild hoping for a free car might be a little disgruntled now, but that’s better than all the beneficiaries feeling ‘cheated’ later on.

Try to remember that it’s just ‘stuff’. Losing a close friend or family member sometimes makes everything seem like a much bigger deal than it really is, or than it would be if you weren’t in the middle of the grieving process. Whether or not you get your mother’s lamp or your father’s old fishing rod is less important than ensuring you and your family have the time and space to grieve without additional stress.

It’s Monday morning. Do you know where your will is?


Preparing estate documents is one thing. Accessing them is another.

Last Monday morning I got a call from an old friend in Vancouver. “My mother is in the hospital and they don’t expect her to regain consciousness,” he said. “I need to find her will and the Power of Attorney paperwork I did with her lawyer out here last year, but the lawyer says he doesn’t have it. What should I do?”

The short answer is: You and your siblings are going to have to do a thorough search of your mother’s home in between visits to the hospital because you’re going to need the originals of those documents sooner rather than later.  The hospital may let you make decisions for your mother as next-of-kin because before she became incapacitated she was able to provide direction. If there are disputes, or if your mother dies, you are going to need the originals of the Estate documents in order to probate the will.

Where the heck are the originals?

Unfortunately, my friend’s problem isn’t unusual: Many people think they’ve done the responsible thing by having a lawyer properly prepare Power of Attorney and Estate documents (and I hope you have, too And they have. It’s just incomplete. If they leave the lawyer’s office with one or two originals of the will and power of attorney documents, they’re setting themselves up for trouble later.

If you’re over 40 and your parents are still alive, ask yourself this question: If my parents died right now, would I know where to find their wills? If they had an accident and I suddenly had to take over their finances, would I know where to find the Power of Attorney documents that would allow me to do that?

Wills and estates are really a three-step process

A good estate lawyer’s role doesn’t end when you sign the paperwork. Our office has a three-step process:

STEP 1: Clients meet with me so I can explain what they need to know in order for me to receive proper instructions. We can discuss estate distribution, powers of attorney, determine whether financial arrangements such as trusts need to be established, etc. I receive instructions to prepare their wills and powers of attorney.

STEP 2: Having had sufficient time to review their instructions and draft the documents, clients return and we review and sign their estate documents: The will, the POA for personal care and the POA for property. The originals of these documents (several originals of the POAs, in most cases) are stored safely with SullivanLaw, while clients leave with copies.

STEP 3: To obtain or access the originals, the client or representative (in case of a death, the executor, and the case of a power of attorney, the attorney) contacts me. I have quick access to the original documents and sufficient authority to get them into the proper hands. In most cases this is simply part of the process and doesn’t cost the client or the estate anything additional.

 “But I thought lawyers always had originals.”

Many lawyers think of estate documents as transactional: The lawyer prepares the documents, the client pays the bill, and that’s that.  The truth is that lawyers don’t make a lot of money preparing wills, so it’s not a big priority for them – some don’t store originals and they don’t expect to hear from family members when a client dies or becomes incapacitated.

We think life’s a lot easier when you can think of your lawyer as a sort of trusted advisor or resource who you can call when things get tough. Storing those important documents is a service we offer.

Would your family know where to find your original will if something should happen to you?



Avoid conflict over disinheritance by being upfront

From this week’s article on Advocate Daily, by our own Timothy Sullivan:

The decision to disinherit a child may be reasonable depending on the circumstances, but it will likely lead to hurt relationships and confusion if an upfront conversation with family members doesn’t take place first, says Ottawa wills and estates lawyer Timothy N. Sullivan.

A recent Globe and Mail article says when it comes to disinheriting a child, there are no blanket rules that apply. Courts will consider the facts of a specific case before deciding whether to side with the child or the estate, says the report.

But in almost all cases, says the Globe, fighting to change a deceased person’s estate plan is complicated, expensive and stressful.

To read more, check out the whole story on AdvocateDaily.