Will Your Family Support Your Charitable Intent?

The important conversation you need to be having about your will

Written by Roger Lee, DLA Piper LLP

You decide to leave a significant amount of money to a charity or cause which is extremely important to you, to leave a lasting legacy and make a positive impact to your community. You set up your will to make the gift, thinking your children or spouse will respect your decision to make that gift. What could go wrong?

In my experience, quite a bit.

Many of the cases I deal with involve a challenge to a will based on the wills variation provisions of the B.C. Wills, Estates and Succession Act. Basically that law allows a spouse or child (biological or legally adopted) to apply to the court and say, in essence, “The will is not fair to me”. One of the most common scenarios I deal with is where the deceased left a significant gift to a charity, which the family thinks is unfair to them, and they bring legal action accordingly. It is extremely expensive for everyone and creates lasting animosity that tears families apart. The sad part is that in most cases, the litigation could have been avoided if the deceased had discussed their charitable intentions with their family before they passed away.

Talk with your family. Make them part of your vision to ensure what you have planned will come to fruition.

Consider the emotions surrounding a death of a loved one. Then add in the issues and complex psychological dynamics inherent in any family, and you have a highly charged atmosphere in which any trigger could set off a dispute. That trigger could be when the family is told that the deceased left a significant gift to a charity – especially if it comes as a surprise.

If you want to minimize the chance that your family might challenge your will, tell them what you are thinking. Get them involved in deciding what charity to choose as the recipient of your gift. Not only will involving your family get them thinking of something beyond themselves for their own life and estate planning, but you also may be able to get them to fully endorse your intentions so that they themselves will be supportive of your gift when the time comes.

The fundamental key is communication while you are still alive. Do not leave your reasoning in a letter, or assume they will just understand why you did it. Talk with your family. Make them part of your vision to ensure what you have planned will come to fruition.

When preparing estate plans, always seek a professional, legal opinion.

Find out how to leave a legacy