As discussed in my blog post last week
, I suggest you consider a frank discussion with your beneficiaries about your will. Today I conclude that discussion with the final four reasons you may wish to consider holding a family meeting.
The Benefits of Having a Family Meeting
The following are the final four benefits of having a family meeting about your will.
5. Giving the Kids what They Really Want
We all have a tendency to assume we think we know what assets our children want. In many cases we are correct, however, in others we are way off base. A family meeting allows you to discuss individual assets to ensure the assets are given to the child who really appreciates and wants the asset. That is not to say that whatever a child wants they will get. In some circumstances more than one child may want the same asset and if you intend to equalize your will equally, the equal proportion may be distorted by allocating assets according to your children’s likes and dislikes.
The determination of the wants of family members will often revolve around larger assets such as cottages. Some children may have an attachment to the family cottage while others may 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 amongst themselves if they will want to sell the property, share the use, or have one child inherit the property. Sometimes the meeting may bring you to the realization that the issues surrounding the second property are so divisive that the prudent decision would be to sell the property.
Don't forget to sweat the small stuff! I have spoken to many corporate executors from the big banks over the years, and they often comment that family disagreements are as likely to occur over personal and sentimental items as they are over large assets such as cottages or even money.
Many wills do not properly address personal and sentimental assets. The reason for this is typically twofold:
1. The parents assume naively that the children can deal with these assets, especially where there is little real value to them.
2. Where personal assets such as art and jewellery have significant value, the parents do not wish to pay income tax on the disposition of these assets or, have no idea of the tax consequences of disposing of these assets. Consequently the assets are ignored in the will. This creates future problems as the executor is required to report the value of these assets for both probate and income tax purposes and may face penalties if he/she does not report the assets and pay the taxes.
It is thus important for you to discuss these items at the family meeting or at a separate informal meeting. Where there is no clear agreement over who should get a personal asset, you can have the beneficiaries’ rank the assets one to ten and the assets are then allocated to the beneficiary with the highest ranking. Alternatively, you can undertake a lottery and the assets will be distributed in your will according to the lottery results.
The key is that you should address these personal items, as if you leave them unaccounted for in your will, the possibility that they could become contentious is very large.
6. Succession Plans for the Family Business - Keeping it Going
Where there is a family business, the succession of that business is one of the most important issues facing the family. The value of their estate and hence the value of the assets in the will are directly correlated to the value or succession of their business.
In my opinion, the succession planning decision is so large in importance with the potential to be so divisive that it should not be part of any family meeting discussing your will. For family succession issues, is it often best to bring in outside specialists to work with the family.
However, if all the children will be given equal shares in the business, the topic can be brought up as part of the family meeting. If you have already made it known to your children that you had decided to leave the business to one child or only some of your children who work in the business and that you plan to equalize the other children with cash or other assets, the topic should be broached.
However, parents must understand that the value of the business can fluctuate wildly over the years, with the result being that the child(ren) who inherit(s) the shares may in essence have inherited a significantly larger asset than the other child(ren). Alternatively, the shares of the company may prove to be worth substantially less than the assets distributed to the other child(ren) if business conditions cause the value of the business to diminish. The parent will have no control after their death on the potential disparities in value. I have seen situations where asset distributions were equal at the time of death, but the inherited business grew astronomically and the children who did not inherit the company shares felt wronged by their parents. Consequently, this topic needs to be discussed and explained at the meeting. You need to make it absolutely clear to your children that the company value could go up or down and that they must understand these valuations are beyond your control and that is one of the uncertainties of your will and an issue that may continue on beyond your death.
7. Helping your Kids plan their Future
It is also a kindness to your beneficiaries to let them know, generally, what they can expect as an inheritance. Even if it is not your intention to gift money or assets over to them while you are alive, at least they can get a sense of what their financial position will be so they can arrange for their own lifestyle and retirement planning. If you are aware that your child is expecting a large inheritance, and you are planning to leave most of it to charity, it is only fair to let him know so that he/she does not overextend himself financially on the assumption that he will someday be wealthy. On the other hand, if your child is living very frugally in order to save for a retirement, and you know that you will be leaving her enough that she will be well off in retirement regardless of her savings, it is fair to her to let her know so she can "live it up" a little! This is a very contentious issue that I wrote about previously in this blog post
8. Children's Roles in Administering the Estate
A side benefit of a family meeting is that you can broach the topic of your executors. Assuming you wish one or more of your children to be your executor(s), you can use the meeting to discuss the responsibilities and the burden of being named an executor of the will. You can explain the duties of the executor and determine if the child you wish to be an executor is willing to undertake the position. If he/she is not, you will then have to consider whether you hire a corporate executor or name family friends or business associates.
You could also take advantage of the opportunity to discuss whether you wish a family member to be your power of attorney of your assets if you become incapable of managing your affairs, and whether you wish to appoint a child to be responsible for your medical affairs or living will, should you also become incapable of making medical care decisions.
A meeting provides our children with some clarity towards their inheritance. Obviously the clarity is still somewhat murky, as there are several variables such as life expectancy, health, re-marriage, changes in wishes etc. However, it still provides some direction for your children’s own financial planning. If you intend to provide partial inheritances while alive, this is very important information for the children to be aware of, if these partial inheritances are significant.
This concludes this mini-series (excerpts from my abandoned book). I hope it provided some food for thought.
This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.