All in the details: Itemize personal property in wills to smooth blended family relations

Testators with blended families need to get detailed when it comes to drafting their wills.

Second or even third marriages are no longer the novelty they once were in Canada – those of  us who have not brought or accepted children from previous relationships into a fresh union almost certainly know someone who has.

But with the extra family members comes an additional layer of emotional and practical complexity, not to mention the elevated risk of litigation.

Estates don’t have to be worth a fortune to spark a big fight among beneficiaries, and even someone who makes sure their surviving partner is taken care of financially can still sow the seeds of a dispute if they fail to fully spell out their intentions.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that the children and newer spouses of a deceased person are most likely to clash over items of personal property left behind in the marital home and unaccounted for in the will.

It can feel quite invasive for a person in mourning to be confronted by the children of their deceased spouse laying claim to various items in their own house, and I’ve seen tempers fray over everything from coin collections to artwork – or anything else you can think of.

That is why I tell clients with new spouses – either common-law or married – that they will do everyone involved a favour by revisiting their wills and itemizing personal property so that specific items are designated to specific people.

Otherwise, things can get messy quickly. Some testators think it’s sufficient to state that their surviving spouse will get half of their estate and the remainder should be divided among their children from a previous marriage.

But without specifics, arguments can begin over the value of certain assets. Figuring out what everything is worth can take some time and effort, and liquidation – including the sale of the home – may be the only way to settle the matter.

Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act provides another source of estate litigation risk in blended family cases, by allowing dependants of the deceased to make a claim against the estate if they are inadequately provided for in the will.

Depending on the case, a first or second spouse could qualify as a dependant, as well as children from different relationships, or even a new partner’s children from a previous relationship.

And as if we needed any more complexity, second marriages can also increase the risk of intestacy, since Ontario remains one of the few jurisdictions in which the previous wills of both parties to the union are automatically revoked.

Whatever your individual circumstances, it’s important to find an experienced professional who can ask the right questions about your blended family situation, and ensure that everyone who needs to be, is accounted for.

Disclaimer: The content on this website is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this website are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.

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Jacob Manishevitz is a mortgage agent with iBridge Capital. His brokerage donates to several charities that range from providing drinkable water to people in need in developing countries; and supporting important organizations by way of activity-based fundraising. If you are looking for worthwhile causes and want to jump on board, please reach out to Jacob.

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