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. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, July 28, 2014

One Big Happy Family - Until We Discuss the Will

This summer I am posting the "best of" The Blunt Bean Counter while I work on my golf game. Today, I am re-posting my 17th blog which I wrote way back in December 2010. This post tackles the taboo subject of whether you should discuss your will with your family. While this is my fifth most read post of all-time, it only had 6 comments which I find puzzling. Maybe our aversion to discussing our will goes as far as commenting on articles about the topic?

I almost forgot that when I started this blog, I used to post a non-financial post with ever tax or financial post, as evidenced by my Dentist's Wallpaper discussion that follows the main post.

One Big Happy Family - Until We Discuss the Will

What I want to discuss in today’s blog is the issue of whether parents should discuss their will with their children.

When there is a “black sheep” child in the family, or a child who is not treated equally in the will, I expect that a family meeting would likely be a disaster. But what about a meeting in situations when the children are treated somewhat equally? There is no right or wrong answer, but I think a family meeting is wise. Any meeting of this type can turn ugly because of money issues, but more likely, any ugliness will be the result of historical family jealousies or resentment over some prior issue or treatment. Nevertheless, if you feel you can navigate the minefields noted above, the family meeting can be very effective and useful.

The family meeting could be used to deal or clarify several different types of issues. For example:
1. Possible perceived inequalities: The meeting could be used to explain why you have left your Picasso to your daughter instead of your son so that he doesn’t feel slighted when the will is read. This discussion could involve explaining that since your daughter studied Art History at university, you feel she would appreciate the Picasso; however, since it is worth $500,000, you have left your son $500,000 of stock to equalize (or if you have not tried to equalize, you can explain why face to face). Also, where you have left more money to one child (perhaps they make less money than the other children), you can use the meeting to clarify why and explain that it has nothing to do with loving that child more, you are just helping them since they have not been as fortunate as the other siblings.
    2. Determine wants and needs of the beneficiaries: Many families have second properties such as cottages or ski chalets. Some children may have attachments to these properties while others might not, or maybe you are not sure whether any child would want to take over the property when you pass. A meeting provides the opportunity to raise the issue for your children to decide among themselves if they will want to sell the property, share the use, or have one child inherit the property. This issue may be best discussed prior to a will being finalized.
    3.  Deciding on an executor: Most children have no idea of the responsibilities and the burden of being named an executor of the will. You can broach this topic at the meeting to explain the duties of the executor and determine if the children or child you wish to be an executor(s) are/is willing to undertake the position.
    4.  Full disclosure: Finally, depending upon how open you wish the meeting to be, you can provide a current list of assets to your children so they know what assets you own and where they are held. In any event, you should also provide such a list to your accountant, lawyer or spouse. A copy of the list should also go into your safety deposit box. They key take-away is that you must ensure such a document exists and someone knows where it is.
    The decision to have a family meeting to explain your estate planning while alive and in good mental and physical health is a complex decision based on past family history and relationships. However, if you feel the meeting can be held without creating a “civil war,” it gives you a great chance to explain your estate planning and to get everyone onside.

    Update: I followed this blog post up with another in February 2012, which reviews an Investors Group survey of Canadians attitudes towards discussing their wills. If you have any interest, here is the link.

    The Dentist’s Wallpaper

    There is not much to do while you are in the dentist’s chair, especially if you are not lucky enough to have nitrous oxide administered. Personally, I look for anything to take my mind off that damn drill.

    One day while having a cavity filled I started reading my dentist’s wallpaper. Before you say “I think you really did have nitrous oxide administered and maybe too much,” you must understand my dentist’s wallpaper actually has “life quotes” all over it. One of the quotes was “Life is Hard by the Yard, But by the Inch Life’s a Cinch.”

    I don’t want to get all philosophical here, but I just found the quote so interesting; it actually took my mind of the drill. Such a simple adage that says so much.

    We all can get overwhelmed when we look at all the tasks and requirements of our daily lives, but if you break those tasks down into bite-sized pieces, the totality of all the tasks is less overwhelming. Although this is easier said than done, I do try and remember this quote when I feel overwhelmed.

    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.


    1. Imagine that you have a blended family. Dad with 1 child from his previous marriage, and mom with 2 children from her previous marriage. Would it be fair that all 3 children receive equal split of the assets? Would it be fair to split the assets 50% to the dad's progeny and 50% to the mom's progeny? Would it matter if there was a significant difference in earnings (e.g. one parent made 4x - 5x compared to the other parent) during their time together?

      1. Hi Anon:

        I have seen all the possible scenario's you note and tension between spouses over this issue, where one spouse wants to leave more to their child than to the step children, especially where one spouse makes significantly more or is the breadwinner. There is no right answer, each person has a different opinion. You have to somehow balance your desire with the possible outcome of that intention and balance your head and heart or ignore your hear or head. Good luck, no one will give you the correct answer.