In estates law, there is still not doubt why people say, “money is the root of all evil.”

I’ve noticed that you never have to wait too long after the death of a celebrity to hear about the unseemly fight that has begun among their heirs.

Household names as varied as John Lennon, Martin Luther King, James Brown and Robin Williams are united by the familial controversy and expensive lawsuits that followed their deaths.

More recently, the families and friends of musical legends Prince and Aretha Franklin – neither of whom left a will – have regularly hit the headlines as they squabble in court over assets worth millions of dollars.

But the truth is you don’t have to be rich and famous for your death to spark an ugly estate dispute. For many people, even a small amount of money seems to trip a “crazy” switch –stripping them of any sense of reasonableness or decency. In my practice, I’ve seen too many otherwise-happy families torn apart by disagreements over the fate of a loved one’s assets.

And the most upsetting part is that much of this strife can be avoided if the deceased person takes some time to plan for what happens after they’re gone.

The most likely estates to be contested are those left by a person with no will at all – and that’s a risk that more than half of adult Canadians are reported to be taking at this very moment.

It’s never going to be much fun thinking or talking about your own death. But I can promise that your friends and family will thank you later for having an estate plan in place if it saves them the hassle of dealing with an intestacy at an already emotionally difficult time.

When someone dies without a will in Ontario, the government effectively decides what will happen to their property – via the province’s Succession Law Reform Act, which sets strict rules for the distribution of assets.

But the Act makes no provision for the individual circumstances of the deceased, which can lead to issues, especially for those with anything but a conventional family arrangement.

Even if you’ve got a will in place, it’s a good idea to communicate with beneficiaries about the basic terms of your estate, so there are no big shocks once it kicks in.

The next step is to revisit your choices every few years, to make sure the beneficiaries you named first time around still make sense after the passage of some time.

Major life events – think the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, or a major change in net worth – should also prompt a fresh look at your estate plan.

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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