Matthew Feehan

Matthew Feehan

November 9, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

When you write your will, you can dispose of your assets as you please.

It's your money.

But if you don't want your children to squabble over your will and despise you for eternity, you better distribute your gifts equally among them.

Edmonton lawyer Matthew Feehan, who specializes in will and estates, says squabbles over wills don't happen often, but they do happen and can have lasting effects on those who feel aggrieved.

"It's a difficult situation because some children are nicer to their parents than others and giving them more could be justified.

"However, a lot of parents say, 'You know what, I don't want squabbling so I'm going to give everyone an equal share because where does it end?'"

The law, however, allows the deceased person to distribute his or her wealth unevenly among their children.

"That can happen if the deceased person favours one child over another.

'They can do that or they can give all their assets to the SPCA if that's what they want to do as long as they don't have a spouse, they don't have children under the age of 18, children between 18 and 22 (who are in school) and adult children that cannot work," explains Feehan.

"(Otherwise) they are free to give away their assets to whomever they want to and they can give equal distribution to their kids or they can make it unequal; they can give one child 90 per cent and another child 10 per cent.

IT'S YOUR MONEY

"They can do whatever they want."

If you have two kids and one of them is wealthy and the other finds it difficulty making ends meet, common sense dictates you give a little more to the needy one.

"But if the parents give more to the child that needs it, there could be squabbling and unhappiness in the family," says Feehan, a lawyer for over 20 years.

"So some parents just say, 'I'm not going to penalize one child because they did a little bit better in life than the other one did; I'm just going to give them all an equal share.'"

That's a difficult area, because these are inheritances the parents don't have to give to their kids, laments Feehan.

"And why would anybody who is getting a free gift criticize? I would say that is rare, from my experience."

But it does happen.

"I get a lot of phone calls about that, but I'm just saying in my experience most of the time it doesn't happen but that's probably because the law does not allow a remedy," Feehan explains.

"If you are a child and you got what you think is an unfair distribution, you are not really going to win in court unless you can prove that you fit within the forementioned categories.

"Anybody can file a claim and go to court and complain about their gift. But are they going to get anything? Are they going to get any remedy from the justice system? Probably not.

"And so if someone calls me, I offer free half-hour consultation. I would ask for all the background circumstances and then I would give them my opinion which is 'You can go to court, you can spend money and argue about it, but you are probably not going to win anything.'"

Feehan suspects most parents favour one child over another.

"If you have children for 50 years, you probably like one of them more than another one for various reasons," he quips.

LIFE-LONG IMPACT

"There are all kinds of angles that you can use to justify one child more than another; maybe they actually do need the money more and maybe it would be justifiable and the Christian thing to do to give that child a little bit more.

"But that could be a recipe for unhappiness amongst the siblings later on. There could be a grudge."

So the best thing to do is what most people do in their wills, recommends Feehan.

"Most people, because they do not want to be hated or because they don't want their kids to be mad at them after they pass away, general give everyone an equal share.

"Just treat everybody equally."