There are many things that we think about and plan for when we move--furniture, movers, schools, utilities... I could go on and on. There are even more things that we plan for when we move to another jurisdiction-language, taxes, visas, driving laws... and so it goes. But one thing you might never think about if you move to another jurisdiction is the impact of the matrimonial regime of your new home on your estate plan. Matrimonial laws can have a major impact on your estate plan, and not knowing what those effects might be can make the difference between your estate plan working the way it was meant to and not.
In addition to purchasing a first home, the birth of a child is another momentous life event that often spurs people to prepare a will. Expecting parents and parents of young children are usually keen to put wills in place in order to ensure that if something happens to them, their children will be cared and provided for. While many parents are aware that this planning includes appointing guardians of their minor children in their wills, they may not fully understand these appointments or the considerations that should go into making them.
The Ontario Family Law Act (FLA) determines the division of property between spouses on marriage breakdown. But what happens when a spouse is a beneficiary of a discretionary trust?
Blended families have become common, raising additional complexity for estate planning primarily due to differences in family dynamics and objectives. A failure to take these differences into account often leads to acrimony and disputes, which may irreparably damage family relations and thwart the estate plan. To minimize disputes and to ensure objectives are fulfilled, it is important to build safeguards into the estate plan.
Updating your estate plan on separation and divorce in a timely manner is critical in order to avoid unintended results, possible later disputes, and even litigation. The following highlights some of the most common concerns, as well as precautions to take.
Discretionary trusts are common estate planning tools used for a variety of reasons such as tax minimization and general wealth protection, including protection on matrimonial breakdown and from creditors. These trusts are often used in an estate freeze where shares in privately-held corporations are "frozen" to defer capital gains liability which might otherwise arise on a shareholder's death in favour of the next generation where the "growth" shares are held by a trust. Margaret O'Sullivan's recent paper "When Trust Law Meets Family Law" provides a review of discretionary trusts and their recent treatment by matrimonial courts in several jurisdictions. My post highlights some of the observations and concerns raised in Margaret's paper.
Canadians are increasingly mobile within Canada. Employees are transferred and move with their families to another province, couples decide to retire in a province with a more moderate climate, or seniors decide to move to be closer to their children and grandchildren. But in changing jobs, lifestyle and family connections, our legal "lives" are also changed. It is surprising how significantly the basic laws that govern property rights on marriage breakdown and death differ if we survey each province's and territory's regime. This fact is not well-known among most Canadians, and can lead to unexpected results.
A common consideration when completing or updating your estate planning is often how best to protect assets in the event of marital breakdown--whether your own marriage, including a second marriage, or an intended beneficiary's (e.g., a child or grandchild). The need to protect certain assets may be even more pressing when the property is a home or cottage that has been in a family for generations, carrying strong emotional ties and significant memories. Protecting this property can be complicated, however, if it qualifies as a matrimonial home under Ontario's Family Law Act.
Marriage contracts can certainly be sensible and valuable planning tools for protecting certain property down the road in the event of a separation or divorce.
If you own a family cottage or other vacation property, it may not be just a financial asset but an emotional investment for you as well, and therefore proper planning for this special asset is especially important in order to meet all your future goals for it. The financial aspects of estate or succession planning for your vacation property should, of course, be addressed; for example, it is important to ensure there are sufficient cash or other liquid assets in your estate to pay the potentially significant tax liability on your death if there is a long-term increase in the value of the property. However, keeping your family vacation property from becoming subject to claims on marriage breakdown, including a child's, or other beneficiary's, can, in some cases, prove even more important.