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Trust and Estate Practitioners have the expertise to guide families through sensitive and complex discussions about trusts and other estate-related matters.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Getting professional help for estate planning is important given today’s blended, far-flung families and their complex needs in these sensitive times.

Trust and Estate Practitioners, or TEPs, are at the ready to draft wills and trusts, administer estates, act as trustees and advise families across generations. With some 2,060 of them throughout Canada in a range of professions including accountancy, banking, law, insurance and trust administration, TEPs have the specialist qualifications and experience to help people deal with difficult, emotional and even vulnerable situations.

“There are many estate issues to be aware of as families and their circumstances get more complicated,” says Rhonda Johnson, a TEP who is a partner at Dentons Canada, based in Edmonton. “A TEP has a holistic view of it all.”

Trusts are really the idea that ‘I’m giving you something to hold on to for someone I really care about. The core benefit of the trust is supporting the family.”

Rhonda Johnson, Partner and Trust and Estate Practitioner at Dentons Canada

Ms. Johnson, a trust and estates lawyer who practises in Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, says that estate plans frequently involve trusts. These are excellent tools for a wide range of people, not just high-net-worth individuals. Trusts can be customized to ensure your wishes are met, and they can be inexpensive and straightforward to set up, especially by experienced practitioners.

“Trusts are really the idea that ‘I’m giving you something to hold on to for someone I really care about,’” Ms. Johnson explains. “The core benefit of the trust is supporting the family.”

Some places where trusts are commonly used include spousal trusts – which for instance can provide for your spouse in a second or subsequent marriage while preserving family assets for your children to inherit – and setting up a trust for a minor child or a beneficiary who has a disability or addiction, which requires some oversight of their inheritance.

Andrée Godbout, a TEP who is an estate-planning consultant covering the Atlantic region at BMO Private Wealth in Halifax, says that in such situations it’s critical to give close consideration to the appointment of your trustee or trustees.

“For example, how old is that person? What’s the relationship like between them and the beneficiary? Are they subject to influence?” she points out. “Do you need to appoint a backup trustee in addition to them? Should you have a conversation with them before just going ahead and naming them?”

Incapacity is also something for people to be more aware of, Ms. Godbout stresses. Incidences of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are on the rise, which is “deeply affecting families,” she says. “If you can get your planning documents in place before you’re in the middle of that heated emotional time, then it can really reduce the tension.”

Ms. Godbout, a lawyer who is also a Certified Financial Planner, has seen the difficulties that can arise when proper estate planning is not done. For example, people sometimes make use of “will kits” that can lead to messy situations. Such “fill-in-the-blanks” documents typically lack verbiage that “may seem superfluous but it’s not, especially in trust law,” she says. “Whenever you’re looking at trusts, it is a specialized type of language.”

A TEP can help to tailor a trust based on what and whom the money or assets are being held for, taking care to put the client and his or her vision at the centre of the conversation. “Talking it out has tremendous value, especially talking it out with somebody who has experience and specialization in the field,” she says.

Ms. Johnson finds that many of her clients have family and assets as well as residences in different provinces or even “scattered throughout the world,” which can affect key areas such as the cost of probate fees to settle estates. “Each different jurisdiction has different rules about how things should happen when someone loses their capacity or when someone dies,” she adds.

She notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has typically made people more isolated and therefore more vulnerable. “Having good support systems with planners and having good documents in place really makes a difference,” she says.

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