While most adult Canadians acknowledge the need to prepare for the transfer of their wealth to the next generation, there is merit in preparing for the transfer of wealth from the prior generation. Both the parent and child can benefit from engagement in a discussion about how, when and why the wealth is going to be transferred.
People may be conflicted as to whether they should share the contents of their will or larger estate plan with their beneficiaries, generally their children. (There are, of course, many other possible beneficiaries — friends, family members other than children, charities — but the discussion in this article is most relevant when adult children are the intended heirs.)
There is no one right answer to that question. Legally, the testator is not obligated to divulge the contents of his or her will to beneficiaries — or anyone else, for that matter, including the executor.
While it may be imprudent not to do so, the testator isn’t even required to consult the person and/or trust company they’ve named as executor before appointing them. The same holds true with guardians — no need to seek their permission before naming them to such an important role. Of course, failure to consult or seek pre-approval of the appointment may result in the party declining the appointment when the time comes.
Not only is there no obligation for a client to let his children know what the will says, many estate practitioners would argue against letting them know.
A will has no force or effect until the testator’s death. So long as the client retains the requisite legal capacity, he is, with certain limited exceptions, free to change his will whenever he wants. This is a strong argument in favour of keeping the contents of the current incarnation of a will private.
Moreover, many parents are rightly concerned with the potentially de-motivating effect inherent in the promise of a large inheritance. What happens to the incentive to work hard when you know you’re in line for a substantial windfall down the road?