Estate Planning for Blended Families in Alberta
Estate planning is important for anyone; however, it becomes even more crucial when blended families are involved.
A case in example is Peters Estate (Re), 2015 ABQB 168 (CanLII). Perhaps, paragraph 20 of the decision best summarizes the results of what can happen when an individual does not have a Will:
“This case is an example of the personal difficulties and harm to relationships which can occur when individuals do not have a will. The distribution of this modest estate has become an instrument with the potential to create, enhance or perpetuate ill will amongst five family members at a time when they should instead be benefiting from good memories of their mother and father. The Court encourages them to advance those purposes despite the legal outcome here.”
Brief Summary of Peters Estate (Re) Case
Ileen Peters and Lester Peters were married for 43 years.
They shared one biological child. In addition, Lester had four children from a prior relationship (Ileen’s stepchildren).
During their 43-year long marriage, Ileen and Lester treated all five children equally.
Lester passed away in 2009. At that time, all children gave up their interest in Lester’s estate in favour of Ileen (essentially Ileen received 100% of Lester’s estate). Ileen then passed away in October 2013. Ileen did not have a Will.
Because Ileen did not have a Will when she died, her estate would be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules as set out in the Wills and Succession Act, SA 2010, c W-12.2. In Ileen’s case, intestacy rules dictated that her estate would be distributed equally between her descendants. However, the very definition of the word “descendants” led the five children to Court.
The primary issue for the Court to determine was whether the four stepchildren were Ileen’s descendants or not. If they were descendants, they would share equally in Ileen’s estate. If they were not, they would get nothing from Ileen’s estate (i.e. the one biological child would inherit 100% of Ileen’s estate).
Unfortunately for the four stepchildren, the Court decided that stepchildren did not fall under the definition of the word “descendants”.
The stepchildren appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal, arguing that “[t]he current Wills and Succession Act has failed to recognize the need to protect blended (step) families”. However, the Court of Appeal dismissed the stepchildren’s appeal.
Among other things, the Court of Appeal cited an Alberta Law Reform Institute report, stating that the relationships between stepchildren and stepparents are too variable to support a presumption that a majority of stepparents intend their stepchildren to inherit in their estate.
In conclusion, the Court of Appeal restated the words from paragraph 20 of the original decision, which has been quoted above.
Comments on Peters Estate (Re) Case
Given the family dynamics described in the case, it is likely that both Ileen and Lester would have wanted all five children to share equally in their estates. However, because the parties did not have a Will, their wishes did not matter. In addition, the continued litigation likely deteriorated the relationship between the siblings, something that Ileen and Lester likely did not want.
Importance of Estate Planning for Blended Families in Alberta
The unfair result in Peters Estate (Re) is just one example of a situation where unintended consequences can follow if an individual does not have a Will.
Given the increased numbers of blended families in our society, estate planning is something that every individual should consider. Although the intestacy rules are supposed to be default rules that work for the average family, they may not work for your family. As a result, having a Will is more important than ever.
Get Help with Estate Planning in Alberta
Estate planning can be particularly important in cases where you have a blended family, a large amount of assets, children with special needs, business interests, property in multiple jurisdictions and obligations to support others.
Safi Law Group can assist you with all aspects of Estate Planning.
Reach out for a consultation using our Contact Us page or call (780) 760-7234. We’re waiting to answer all of your questions and help you secure the future of your estate.