In Canada, succession rights are often discussed in the framework of testamentary freedom - see for example our previous blog regarding testamentary freedom which discusses disinheriting a beneficiary such as a child who might expect to inherit. But in many parts of the world, a person not only cannot disinherit certain family members, it would not be accepted by society at large in such places that a person should be able to do so.These countries have "forced heirship" laws or mandatory succession rights, which direct how a person's estate must be distributed on death, including who will inherit and what portions of the estate each beneficiary should receive. Beneficiaries included are typically close family members, but some jurisdictions include extended family members. These laws are found in many if not most civil law jurisdictions such as mainland Europe as well as Muslim countries.
When it comes to spousal property division on death within the Canadian context, many different laws govern. Under constitutional law, property rights fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction, and with ten provinces and three territories that means thirteen different jurisdictions, each with their own unique laws to govern what happens on death.What is interesting but also perplexing is how much these laws differ from each other, and as a result, how moving to a different Canadian jurisdiction can significantly impact rights on death arising out of marriage or a common law relationship. It is an issue that is not on the radar when a decision is made to move to a different Canadian jurisdiction, whether because of a new job, for retirement, or to be closer to family.
We live in a world in which personal privacy is under siege, or perhaps simply not valued as much by many as it was by prior generations. As we reach the end of 2018, this year has seen a number of scandals involving significant data breaches and cyber hacking involving corporate behemoths as well as foreign governments which have shown how personal information is being surreptitiously obtained and illegally traded for corporate gain or used for political intelligence and influence. Technology, the internet and social media have developed far faster than the ability to understand them and their full implications and effects, and certainly for our lawmakers to regulate and legislate in respect of them.At the same time, governments worldwide are keen to ensure greater transparency they claim is necessary in order to combat money laundering, counter financing of terrorist activity and fight tax evasion. In the European Union, on May 30, 2018 the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive was adopted, and requires member states to bring it into domestic law by certain dates in 2020.The key amendments include more access to beneficial ownership information so that member states must now not only make available information on the beneficial owners of companies to those with "legitimate interests" but now extends this to trusts, and now requires that information on beneficial ownership of companies should be made available to the public.
Often people who are doing their estate planning have one overriding goal in mind: keep it simple. The so-called "KISS" principle is attractive, and may be appropriate for some. But for many, simplicity can be oversimplicity. Instead of being cost-efficient in the long term and allowing a streamlined estate administration process, oversimplicity can create more complications, increased taxes, disputes and, all too often, litigation than could have been avoided if their planning had been more comprehensive.
The STEP (Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners) Global Congress held in Vancouver in September, 2018, attracted delegates from over 37 countries and six continents. It was a truly global think tank in which we explored, probed, deconstructed and debated some of the most important changes that are, or will in future, shape and impact the world of family inheritance and succession planning.As Chair of the Program Panel Committee, it was particularly exciting for me to see how the two-dimensional communication of countless emails and international conference calls to develop the Congress became a three-dimensional reality of speakers and delegates from around the world who convened for this biennial event to learn about strategies, new developments, ways of thinking and approaches in family succession.
A power of attorney ("POA") is a legal document in which one person, sometimes termed the "grantor", appoints another person - the attorney - to make decisions and act on the grantor's behalf. In Canada, POAs are governed by provincial and territorial laws. Two types of POAs are used in Ontario for estate planning: Continuing Power of Attorney for Property and Power of Attorney for Personal Care. In order for a POA to be valid, it must comply with the formal POA requirements of the applicable jurisdiction. These requirements are generally concerned with who may make a POA, who may be appointed as an attorney, who may or must witness the execution of the POA and when the POA will be in force. Although the formalities may appear similar across jurisdictions, each jurisdiction generally has its own unique requirements, with the result that extra-provincial/extra-territorial or foreign country POAs may not be recognized locally.
Estate planning deals with often complex family situations, including the needs of blended families with complicated personal relationships. The goal of estate planning is to ensure your intentions for your loved ones are carried out.There are several ways to address blended family and second marriage situations so that the children of a prior marriage are provided for. Most common is the use of a trust. Many practitioners have reservations about the use of another technique, "mutual wills", which are further explained below, given their questionable legal basis.
We all sense the increasing speed of change that permeates all aspects of our everyday lives. Whether it's technology, political or economic events, or even the weather with climate change, the constant is change itself. And with constant change comes the need to adapt to it, or even better - embrace it. In observing the laws of natural selection, Charles Darwin observed that "it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change". Resilience and adaptability have become the buzz words of our age. A more positive approach to change is not only accepting it, but embracing it and enjoying the challenges of change as a philosophy of life. As the Japanese intellectual Kakuzo Okakura stated, "The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings".
December 10, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was a milestone in 1948 for protecting human rights. Surprisingly, older persons are not yet expressly identified as a protected group under international human rights laws. In acknowledgment of the Declaration, the UN International Day for Older Persons has coined the theme for 2018 to be "Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions". With the 70th anniversary on the horizon for the Declaration, it feels important to reflect on older person's rights and the long standing discussion around the proposed United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older Persons (the "Convention").
On May 4, 2018, we celebrate our firm's 20th anniversary. I thought it would be fitting as well as helpful to reflect on one of the most challenging questions in family succession: whether children should be treated equally. Being a trust and estate lawyer now for over thirty-five years has given me perspective, as well as some practical insight into this issue.