A recent survey suggests that many young British Columbians may have unrealistic expectations about what sort of inheritance they can expect from their parents. According to the Vancouver Sun, the survey found that although 40 percent of British Columbians aged between 18 and 34 expected an inheritance in excess of $300,000, only 12 percent of parents said they expected to leave behind an estate of that amount. The disconnect between expectations and reality could be setting the stage for a significant rise in estate litigation in British Columbia in the coming years, especially given recent changes to estate law in the province.

Potential disputes

The problem of outsized expectations among young people in British Columbia when it comes to inheritances may come down to a lack of communication. For example, fewer than half of parents who responded to the survey in the Lower Mainland said they had discussed inheritances with their children. At the same time, however, 60 percent of British Columbian parents have already given a portion of their estate to their children to assist them with major financial items, such as mortgages and student loans. That assistance, combined with a lack of communication about estate planning, may be leading young people to expect far more from their parents’ estates than they will actually receive.
Such outsized expectations are likely to lead to a significant increase in estate litigation. People who are expecting a significant windfall from an inheritance are more likely to be disappointed, for example, when they discover that their inheritance is only a fraction of what they had expected. Furthermore, with a smaller estate that still needs to be divided between numerous heirs, the possibility for conflict to arise is substantial. To avoid disputes in the future, parents would be well advised to talk with their children today about what they should realistically expect in terms of an inheritance.

Estate litigation in British Columbia

Furthermore, as the Globe and Mail reports, the situation is further complicated in British Columbia by the province’s unique estate litigation laws. The Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA), which was brought into law in 2014, may make it easier for some wills to be challenged. For example, when challenging a will based on undue influence, it is now the responsibility of the beneficiary to prove that no undue influence took place. In the past, the onus of proving undue influence had rested with the party challenging the will. Likewise, WESA significantly expands what documents can be used to challenge a will. Even non-legal documents, such as emails and recordings, can be used to show that the willmaker’s true intentions may have differed from what was written down in his or her will.

Estate planning and litigation

An experienced estate planning and litigation lawyer should always be contacted to assist with issues related to wills, inheritances, and other estate planning issues. To help avoid disputes from arising, it is important to talk to an estate planning lawyer about drafting a will and preparing for the future. When disputes do happen, it is equally necessary to have a lawyer on one’s side who can provide compassionate advice about how to proceed.