My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Holy Hotchpot—Equalizing Uneven Advances to Children in your Will

Many parents stress unnecessarily, over how thy will equalize their wills, where they have made unequal gifts to their children during their lifetime. Don't fret; today I will discuss a simple "hotchpot clause" that can alleviate your concerns.

Families with the financial wherewithal often advance funds to their “financially dependent” children to fund their living expenses or help with the purchase of a house, to the exclusion of their financially "independent children". In many cases, parents assisting financially dependent children, have the expectation that when they pass away, the funds they have advanced during their lifetime to financially dependent children will be considered advanced on account of those children’s inheritances, not separate gifts above and beyond their inheritances.

I have clearly stated in two of my most read blogs, “Is it Morbid or Realistic to Plan for an Inheritance?” and “A Family Vacation – A Memory worth not Dying for" that where parents have the financial means, it is my opinion that they should consider making partial advances on account of an inheritance while alive. Some readers have stated that they do not agree with my views. However, for today, let’s suspend the debate on whether parents should or should not provide partial advances to their children and assume a situation where a parent has made unequal advances to their children during their lifetime and they want to equalize these advances in their will.

Over the years, a legal concept now commonly known as a “hotchpot clause” has evolved to deal with the equalization of the beneficiaries of an estate, where one or more of the beneficiaries have already received money during their parent’s lifetime. When a hotchpot clause is inserted in a will, the clause will prevent a beneficiary (typically a son or daughter) from “double dipping” where the parent intended any money advanced during their lifetime to be considered a pre-payment of an inheritance, rather than an advance over and above an intended inheritance.

This concept is best illustrated by an example.

Richie and Betty Rich have three children; RJ, Archie and Veronica. Richie and Betty have an estate of $1,000,000. Their son RJ runs a successful comic book store and makes a good living, but is by no means wealthy. Archie, the youngest, suffers from an entitlement issue and has never finished school nor held a full-time job. However, he has always been the apple of Betty’s eye and can do no wrong in his mothers' eyes. Veronica gave up a promising blogging career when she married, but unfortunately her marriage fell apart and her husband left her with two young children.

Over the past few years, Betty has advanced Archie over $100,000 to fund his snowboarding lifestyle. Furthermore, Richie and Betty both have felt the need to advance $200,000 to Veronica to fund the private school education of her children.

It is Richie and Betty’s intention to have their $1,000,000 estate split equally when they pass away, however, they want the funds previously advanced to Archie and Veronica to be accounted for, such that RJ gets 1/3 of their estate, including amounts previously advanced to Archie and Veronica.

If Richie and Betty were to die in a car accident today, their current will stipulates that their estate is to split equally amongst RJ, Archie and Veronica, such that each child would be entitled to $333,333 each ($1,000,000/3), which is not the intention of Richie and Betty.

However, if Richie and Betty had met with their lawyer before they died in the car accident, their lawyer could have inserted a hotchpot clause, such that their estate would be considered to have been $1,300,000 ($1,000,000 plus $100,000 advanced to Archie and $200,000 advanced to Veronica). Thus, when the estate was settled, RJ would receive $433,333 ($1,300,000/3), Archie would receive $333,333 ($433,333-$100,000) and Veronica would receive $233,333 ($433,333-$200,000).

To view an example of what a hotchpot clause may look like, please follow this link. A word of caution; you should always engage a lawyer to draft the clause, as a hotchpot clause must mesh with the rest of your will. 

“From the basis of equitable treatment between beneficiaries, a hotchpot clause is a useful tool” comments Albert Luk, a lawyer at Devry Smith Frank LLP and past contributor to my blog. “However, one must always be aware that a hotchpot clause requires evidence of provable advances to the beneficiaries. Bad (or no) book-keeping may render a hotchpot clause ineffective. The key is to keep good records.”

There is obviously no requirement for parents to be equal and fair to their beneficiaries. However, where parents intend to split their estate equally amongst their children/beneficiaries and yet, have made loans, advanced funds for house down payments or just advanced funds to their children in unequal amounts while alive, their estate planning must include the consideration of those gifts and loans (with proper evidence as noted by Albert Luk above) and they should ensure their lawyer has drafted a hotchpot clause.

Bloggers Note: If you are interested in delving deeper into this topic, Corina Weigl of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP wrote a great paper on this topic in 2001.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.