As colder weather approaches, Ontario snowbirds will start flocking to warmer climates. According to a 2018 study commissioned by The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, close to 500,000 Canadian snowbirds spend their winters in Florida. Arizona and California are also popular destinations.
For those of us who live and work in a common law world, it is hard to imagine that we are by far the minority. Most of the world is governed by a civil law regime, customary law or religious law. Continental Europe, Russia, China, Japan, South America, Mexico and some of Africa are governed by civil law. The common law tradition is peculiarly English in origin, and most of its former colonies follow it, including in the U.S. (except Louisiana), Canada (except Quebec), Australia, New Zealand and India.
People often wish to ensure confidentiality in doing their estate planning as an important goal. A trust is a common vehicle to do so, since court probate processes, which have been around for centuries, are public and once a will is probated it becomes a public document. The current government trend is towards greater disclosure of beneficial ownership, making achieving confidentiality in estate and trust matters much more difficult, if not impossible, in some cases.Obtaining a court grant of probate (or certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will in Ontario), which is often required for an executor to be able to administer a person's assets after his or her death, involves the filing of the deceased person's last will with the court making it available to the public. In addition, the total value of a person's assets must be disclosed in the application form, as well as the addresses, and if minor beneficiaries, dates of birth, of all beneficiaries must be provided to the court. While a probate application is not exactly a newspaper article, it is available to anyone who wants to see it and who is willing to bother to take a look at the court file. Now in Ontario a fulsome list of all estate assets subject to probate is required to be filed after the court certificate is issued, although this is not a publicly-available document.
With increased mobility, it's becoming more common to have assets in several jurisdictions, in which case, it is important to create a comprehensive estate plan that considers all of your assets and not just the assets located where you live. To deal with assets in more than one jurisdiction, there are a number of advantages in having multijurisdictional or separate situs wills (see our advisory on multijurisdictional and separate situs will planning).
One of the benefits that a trust and estate lawyer like myself enjoys is that we deal with people of every background, age and personality type and often in very profound ways. In short, we encounter all the diversity that humanity can offer. We see many family situations which gives one perspective and a broad awareness, and we hold the confidence (and confidences) of many in our role as a trusted adviser. This includes dealing with the challenging mental health issues of our clients and their family members from a legal perspective in their estate planning, and offering solutions to often perplexing and thorny issues.
One issue which people planning their estates frequently struggle with is who to appoint as their executor. The choice for this important role deserves serious consideration. There are many factors to be taken into account in selecting the right person, one of which is his or her age.
The family landscape is changing with increases in blended families, matrimonial breakdown and cohabiting. This may mean shifting family dynamics and relationships, which will likely translate to more complex estate planning.A parent may not want to pass his or her property to a child for a number of reasons. There are circumstances where it may be reasonable to exclude a child from inheriting, but a lack of proper planning can lead to costly disputes and strains on family relationships.
The psychology of wealth is emerging as a distinct area of academic study and research. With aging baby boomers, and the trillion dollar wealth transfer that is now beginning to take place, we need to know more about wealth, how it impacts families, and how to successfully transition wealth.The reality is that most of those who have wealth are new to it. It has been estimated that of wealth holders, 75%-85% are self-made and only 10% -15% are inheritors.
One of the most important aspects of estate planning for families is ensuring that everyone who is considered to be part of the family is able to share in the family wealth after death. While each holder of family wealth has different views on how and when this should occur, no one ever wishes to accidentally eliminate an intended heir. Unfortunately, this can happen all too easily when standard provisions routinely included in wills and trusts are not fully considered in light of each person's unique family circumstances.Here is one example of how such an unintended disinheritance might arise. A person makes a will which provides for a cash amount for each grandchild. This person has a child who is a parent to his or her spouse's child from a previous marriage. This child never legally adopted his or her spouse's child, although this "step-grandchild" is considered part of the family.
It is timely to consider the topic of medical assistance in dying. Since June 17, 2016, three years ago last week, Canadian law has recognized as a fundamental human right to be protected by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms the right to have assisted dying. On that date, Parliament amended the Criminal Code to legalize medical assistance in dying ("MAID").Canada joined a small but growing number of jurisdictions which allow either assisted suicide (where a person helps another to end their life but the patient takes their own life), such as prescribing life-ending medication, or voluntary euthanasia where a practitioner administers medication that causes a patient's death. Assisted dying is also allowed in Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, several U.S. states and the State of Victoria, Australia, but only The Netherlands, Belgium, Columbia, Luxembourg and Canada and just last week, the State of Victoria have legalized voluntary euthanasia.