Reportedly, a significant percentage of Canadians do not have estate plans and wills in place. Death is hardly a pleasant subject to discuss, but not attending to wills and other estate planning measures could make life difficult for surviving loved ones. Typically, common law-couples or those in second marriages will likely find the process even more challenging.
Common-law couples may enter relationships with uneven incomes and assets. They might continue to keep their financial affairs separate throughout their relationship. Other considerations may involve uneven numbers of children by each partner, support obligations to special needs children or aging parents. Working out how to fairly divide assets in estate plans can be a significant challenge.
The two extremes – leaving too much or too little
Imagine a surviving common-law partner – who is the stepparent of the partner’s children – inheriting all of the assets upon the partner’s death. Suppose the couple had not prepared mutual wills or established trusts to provide for the children. In that case, the possibility exists that the surviving spouse could gift or distribute the assets upon death with no consideration for the stepchildren.
Another complicating factor could present itself if the surviving partner later gets into a new common-law relationship. Even if the stepparent does not do wrong by the stepchildren, the new partner’s children may also become sharing parties, thus reducing the size of each beneficiary’s inheritance.
By contrast, bequeathing insufficient assets to the surviving common-law partner could leave them in a difficult financial position. Discussing these matters when both parties are still healthy is essential. Death sometimes comes unexpectedly, and putting wills and estate plans on the back burner could have severe, although unintended, consequences for those left behind.
These are only some of the challenges common-law couples in Alberta could encounter. Estate planning, even for married couples, is a complicated process. Common-law couples may find it daunting, but once everything is in place, it will undoubtedly provide them with peace of mind.