There seems to be an idea in North American culture that we like surprises. Surprise parties, unexpected gifts, fortuitous meetings – they’re all a hit. Where surprises cause big problems, however, is when they involve your estate.
Ian Hull at Hull and Hull in Toronto wrote an excellent book several years ago called Advising Families on Succession Planning: The High Price of Not Talking. His view is that the best way to avoid estate conflicts is to let your potential beneficiaries know, now, what you intend to do with your estate after your death. No one wants to be surprised by not receiving a special piece of jewellery, or by an uneven split of an estate. You may have excellent reasons for leaving your assets a particular way, but your beneficiaries may not understand them. If they are going to argue about it, they should be able to argue with you at a time when you can argue back,; this will give them the closure that they need regarding the asset and also preserve the relationships among the people you leave behind. You don’t want someone’s last memory of you to be that you didn’t love them enough to give them a special item. Leave your loved ones with more than bitter memories and litigation files.