What are you waiting for? - The Importance of Estate Succession Planning
30/04/13

Resource provided by Keyser Mason Ball LLP

Legal partner of RGD, Keyser Mason Ball, LLP offers technical knowledge and experience to help individuals, families and business owners plan their estates so that clients can save taxes, protect loved ones, protect businesses and preserve family harmony.

 

 

Everyone who hasn’t been living on a desert island for the past 10 years has at least heard of the “Millenium Trilogy” (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it’s two sequels), written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. You’ve likely read them all. You may even know that all the books were best sellers in Sweden, and exploded into the blockbuster stratosphere after they were translated and published in English. All three books had movie versions filmed in Sweden, and were shown internationally to wide acclaim. The books are now all getting a Hollywood makeover, being re-made with A-list actors. The first Hollywood re-make was released last December, directed by David Fincher and starred heartthrob Daniel Craig. The next two are in the works.


Less known is that Larsson died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 2004, at the age of 50. He had just sent the third book to his publisher, but none of the books had yet seen the light of day. Stieg Larsson did not live to see the explosive world-wide popularity of his books and the movies they inspired. He never got to enjoy any of the immense fortune his creations earned.


Even less known is that Larsson’s common law partner, Eva Gabrielsson, with whom Larsson lived for over 30 years until his death, and who was enormously supportive of his writing, hasn’t enjoyed a kroner of that immense fortune either. Instead, the estimated scores of millions of dollars have gone to Larsson’s father and brother, from whom Larsson was deeply estranged. The couple had no children.


How could such a monstrously unfair thing happen? Simple. Stieg Larsson died without a will. Under Swedish law, an unmarried partner is not entitled to any portion of the estate of their deceased partner. Instead, Swedish law provides that the estate all goes to the surviving blood relatives, in Larsson’s case a father and brother whom he rarely even saw. This unfortunate result was recently confirmed by the Swedish equivalent of our Supreme Court. Ms. Gabrielsson has recently published her own book, detailing her side of this estate nightmare.


Under Canadian law, the situation could have a very similar ending. Common law “spouses” under Ontario law have no property division rights, so Ms. Gabrielsson would not have an automatic right to Stieg Larsson’s estate. Her best bet would be to make a claim against his estate, arguing that a “constructive trust” had been created between the two of them as she assisted his career over the years. She would have to go to court and establish by evidence that:

  • She contributed benefits to Stieg Larsson during his relationship;
  • Stieg Larsson did in fact receive those benefits;
  • She suffered a loss as a result of contributing those benefits; and
  • There is no legal reason why Stieg Larsson should have benefitted at her expense

 

To contend such a case in court can be extremely difficult (and expensive!). Numerous witnesses and considerable documentation must be assembled, usually going back years. Recollections fade, witnesses themselves may have passed on, and the application could be strongly contested by members of the deceased’s family.

 

Fortunately, there is a cost-effective, and relatively easy, way to ensure that you and your loved ones never have to go through this agonizing process.


Go to an appropriate legal professional and have a Will made.
A recent poll revealed that almost 60% of Canadians don’t have a will. Often I’ll meet someone at a social function, and after telling them what I do, they’ll give me a guilty look and say, “You know, that’s funny... I don’t have a will.” It’s all I can do to stop myself from screaming “Why not? What’s your excuse?” These are good, responsible people, well educated, with good jobs, often with young children. These are people who anxiously fret over the well being of their families. They carefully belt their children into the car, and make sure that their elderly parents are taking their medicine correctly. Many own businesses, with the well being of many people directly and indirectly connected to theirs. But they neglect to attend to the critically important task of estate planning.


Yes, it will cost you money. But only a fraction of what your estate could spend on legal fees afterward over a disputed estate. And what price do you put on a legacy of bitterness and broken relationships between formerly loving family members?

 

Legal partner of RGD, Keyser Mason Ball, LLP offers technical knowledge and experience to help individuals, families and business owners plan their estates so that clients can save taxes, protect loved ones, protect businesses and preserve family harmony. Our task is to keep your will and estate out of court. Our fees for wills and powers of attorney are currently in the $1,500 range, with variations depending on complexity. Please feel free to visit the Business and Estate Succession Planning Practice section of our website at http://www.kmblaw.com/business-estate-succession/ to find out more about what we can do to keep your estate from becoming a sad tale of neglect and irresponsibility.

 

Everyone is busy. Yet we all make time to do the things that are really necessary. Doing your will is something that you have to find time to do. People fail to appreciate how important this task is, and how failing to complete a proper estate plan can be devastating to the future well being of their surviving loved ones.


Just ask Eva Gabrielsson.