Where there’s a will...

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 36 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

No one fights like fam­ily. They know where the old bruises are, the ones that go as deep as bone and hurt like hell the in­stant you press them. They know where the skele­tons are buried; no one can crush you as suc­cess­fully with a sin­gle off-hand com­ment than an an­gry sis­ter or a sullen brother.

A par­ent, no mat­ter how old, needs no more than a fa­mil­iar raise of the chin and turn of the head to com­mu­ni­cate a deep dis­ap­point­ment that in­stantly dates back to your child­hood.

So it’s no won­der that fam­ily mat­ters of all kinds some­times end up in court.

Any­one who fol­lows the courts at all knows how fam­ily law cases - divorces are among the most take-no­pris­on­ers cases you can find. Peo­ple who used to be in love can trans­form that love re­mark­ably quickly into hate, and then use ev­ery means at their dis­posal - in­clud­ing ev­ery as­set they own and more as well - in an ef­fort to hurt their for­mer part­ner.

But there’s an­other messy part of fam­ily that comes up more of­ten in the courts than you might ex­pect.

It’s what hap­pens when par­ents die, a fam­ily mem­ber’s named ex­ecu­tor of the will, and things go off the rails. In At­lantic Canada alone in the last three months, sev­eral such cases have emerged.

Two broth­ers ended up in P.E.I. Supreme Court over the han­dling of their de­ceased fa­ther’s prop­erty hold­ings.

In Nova Sco­tia, a brother bat­tled with a sis­ter over whether the sis­ter had taken ad­van­tage of their mother when the mother was “in­ca­pac­i­tated by ill­ness, in­com­pe­tent, and sub­ject to un­due in­flu­ence.” In an­other Nova Sco­tian case, fam­ily mem­bers are tak­ing the un­usual step of hav­ing pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion about wills un­dergo a chal­lenge un­der the Char­ter of Rights - to in­clude adult chil­dren who weren’t named in a will.

A third case in that prov­ince in­volved two sis­ters fight­ing over the di­vi­sion of the only as­set left in an es­tate, a small white bun­ga­low on a quiet Dart­mouth street.

In New­found­land, it was a case of chil­dren chal­leng­ing the sur­vivor­ship rights of their fa­ther’s com­mon-law spouse to the cou­ple’s joint ac­counts; the chil­dren felt the money should go into the es­tate in­stead.

And re­mem­ber: get­ting to court is the last and most ex­pen­sive bat­tle­field for fam­i­lies who dis­pute what a par­ent’s in­ten­tions were for their es­tate. These are only the cases that got all the way through to the court­room and the judge and the very ex­pen­sive prospect of hav­ing lawyers fight things out on your be­half.

It shouldn’t have to be that way. We all have the abil­ity to spell out how we want our af­fairs to be han­dled, even if, deep down, most of us think we’re go­ing to live pretty much for­ever. (Not-so-fun fact - we won’t.)

We can clearly list our as­sets, what we want done with them, and how the process is to work. For scores of Cana­di­ans, the death of a par­ent gets dealt with with­out a fight in the courts (though of­ten with some lin­ger­ing scrap of re­sent­ment some­where within the fam­ily unit).

Strive to be among that group.

Even clar­ity is no guar­an­tee; wills are some­times chal­lenged sim­ply be­cause some­one ar­gues they’re not fair. And they’re some­times over­turned for just that rea­son.

Be clear. Be pro­fes­sional. Be forth­right. And maybe, just maybe, if you are the par­ent in­volved, act like it. Chances are, you’ve been the grown-up for a con­sid­er­able amount of time.

Oh, and maybe don’t use your will to cru­elly set­tle scores af­ter you’re gone. It just turns a fam­ily mess into a long-run­ning, some­times ex­pen­sive tragedy.

Some things are bet­ter taken qui­etly to the grave.

We all have the abil­ity to spell out how we want our af­fairs to be han­dled, even if, deep down, most of us think we’re go­ing to live pretty much for­ever.

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