Families differ when it comes to their level of comfort about discussing financial matters, and this can have an impact on their estate plans. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a “full disclosure” approach with your kids (or if this approach simply wouldn’t be wise given the dynamics of your family), it’s especially important to have an effective and well thought out estate plan. Here’s an example of what can happen if you don’t:
A recent Canadian case, Barrick v. Lilliste, involved Alvin Barrick, a father who passed away at age 102, leaving behind four adult children and a valid Will. The problem was that, since he didn’t trust banks, he had kept all of his money in his home since the mid-1990’s. After the father’s death, his son found $96,000 in cash in Mr. Barrick’s house, and he gave this money to his three sisters. One of the sisters believed that their father had more money – about $210,000 – stashed away in his house, and she thought her brother had kept that cash for himself. A lawsuit was filed, and the court ended up siding with the brother, concluding that there was not enough evidence to show the additional $210,000 existed.
The judge made an especially insightful comment that sums up the perils that come with having an estate plan that is not workable:
[T] he children of Mr. Barrick are in court sad, broken, and hopelessly divided on this issue, for which there shall never be any happy resolution. Alvin’s once happy family is torn asunder by the very thing he did not care about – money – or perhaps the very thing he cared too much about to protect his children from their fate of being siblings squabbling over money he may have had.
Whether you keep your money under a mattress or in a bank account, one of the ways to keep your loved ones away from the courthouse after your death is to make sure you have a comprehensive, workable estate plan. As Mr. Barrick’s case shows, a Will is not always enough.