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Doling out estates can be tricky with blended families

In a typical will and estates scenario, after a person passes away, his or her assets pass along to a spouse and/or any children. Such is an ideal situation, but that is not always how things work out, especially given the prevalence of blended families in Ontario.

According to figures from Statistics Canada, as of 2012, more than 12 percent of the 3.7 million families with children in this country are blended with stepparents and stepchildren. Blended families, especially high-net-worth ones, often have especially sensitive estate planning needs. There may be an extensive and complex estate to divide and each person wants to feel he or she has been treated fairly.

Some estate planning professionals caution that "fair" is not the same as "equal" and that it is important to be fair, even if that means an unequal distribution.

For example, a non-biological child who entered the family through a second marriage later in the testator's life may not expect an equal share of an estate, as might the testator's natural children. The key, say the professionals, is to have a difficult, but important conversation with beneficiaries and stakeholders far in advance and let them know in general terms what to expect. Hopefully, knowing what to expect will reduce any possible disappointments and prevent a contested will.

Estate planning may be a delicate subject for some families, but it is an essential one. Doing the work in advance can show its worth when the time comes for the distribution of an estate. With the help of a lawyer who has experience with wills and estates in Ontario, some peace of mind can be gained in knowing that one's family will be looked after when the estate holder is gone.

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Ottawa, ON K1Z 8R1

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