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Family Meetings: An Underutilized Tool

In our August 18, 2015 post we raised the idea of regular check-ups for your estate plan in order to keep it current. Periodic reviews help to keep you refreshed about the details of your estate plan so that it can be maintained and changed when necessary--ensuring it will carry out your objectives when it comes into effect.

As we enter the holiday season, many of us will be gathering together with family and friends to celebrate and reflect on the past year, as well as make resolutions and plans for the New Year. In many cases, our family members and friends have been named in our wills and powers of attorney to carry out the roles of executor, trustee, attorney or guardian of minor children. We may have asked for a family member or friend's agreement before naming them as an executor, trustee, attorney or guardian in our estate planning documents, but often that's as far as we go in preparing them to carry out the plan. 

You might consider making a further resolution--holding a family meeting convened by your professional advisors in the New Year to inform your named executors, trustees, attorneys and guardians, and certain selected family members about your estate plan at a "high level" and their respective roles.

Each family meeting will be unique in terms of the people invited to attend and the information covered. For example, some of the information reviewed may include:

  • how and when original documents (such as wills and powers of attorney) may be released;
  • the specific duties and responsibilities of executors, trustees, attorneys for property and for personal care, and guardians of children, as well as any other roles;
  • an overview of the plan;
  • types of discretionary decisions contemplated in the documents and what information and wishes are to be taken into account when exercising discretion; and
  • goals and intentions that inform the overall estate plan.

Information regarding your assets does not need to be disclosed at the family meeting--nor does the exact distribution scheme--although in certain circumstances, this may be desirable. Those invited to attend a family meeting can include the people who are named as executors, trustees, guardians, attorneys, selected family members and professional advisors (e.g., your estate planning lawyer, accountant or financial advisor).

Family meetings provide an opportunity for communication about your estate plan and the key roles and responsibilities before a triggering event occurs (such as incapacity or death), in an informal yet structured setting. It allows your fiduciaries and key family members to have an overview in advance of your estate plan and their future roles when they are not overwhelmed or emotionally charged, and gives them the opportunity to ask questions.

We have found that people are increasingly receptive to the idea of holding family meetings and are even proactively requesting we convene them. It must be remembered, however, that your plans and wishes will change and so will your estate plan. A basic premise of a family meeting is to emphasize at the outset for all that the plan is current only as of the date of the meeting, and is changeable.

The best of the Season to you and yours from O'Sullivan Estate Lawyers!

- Jenny Hughes

Please watch for our next blog post in the New Year when we discuss why trust planning will not be going away with the commencement of the new trust taxation rules.

The comments offered in this article are meant to be general in nature, are limited to the law of Ontario, Canada, and are not intended to provide legal advice on any individual situation. Before taking any action involving your individual situation, you should seek legal advice to ensure it is appropriate to your personal circumstances.

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