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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Top Ten gifts for lawyers - 2017 edition

Here it is, this year's gift guide for lawyers. I've been doing these lists for a few years now and I know some of you just can't finish your shopping without them. As you can probably tell, people in my family hate getting gift from me, never mind gifts for me.

Anyway, here are my top ten ideas for 2017 for showing the lawyer in your life just how special he or she is to you. 

10. Weapon of Choice key ring. Is this a pacifist message along the lines of "the pen is mightier than the sword"? Or is it a veiled way of threatening to kick someone's ass using your legal talent? That's up to you.

Hilarious Lawyer Dog Memes You Need to See #law

9.  "Send lawyers, guns, and money; the shit has  hit the fan" bracelet. I love this one. I wonder if the judge will find it funny if I wear it to court.

send lawyers, guns, and money; the shit has hit the fan.  wearing this bracelet today...

8. "Instant Lawyer" mug. This gift may be a little too reality-based for those of you who do not function without your morning caffeine hit. But it's probably more fair to the rest of the world to let them know that you need this before they get too close.

Check out this item in my Etsy shop

7. "Always Get it in Writing" pen. I agree this is a pretty cheap-looking pen. But the message! Oh so valuable.


6. Lawyer tree ornaments. Is it weird to want to hang all of your associates and partners by a string from a tree?

Lawyer Christmas ornaments

5. "Approach the Bench" chess set. If the lawyer in your life plays chess, this is perfect. If they don't play chess, it's even more perfect because it can sit on a table in a corner of the office and make them look smarter than they really are.

Approach the Bench: The Chess Set for Legal Professionals

4. "Lawsuit" game. This is a game for lawyers who don't see the problem with making their whole family play a game that's all about their career. Who cares if the rest of the family is made up of doctors, bakers, electricians, or engineers? Let's make it about ME.

LAWSUIT! -- A Fun Award-Winning Legal Themed Board Game for the Whole Family. Learn What It’s Like to be a Lawyer. Game Night Favorite. Best Attorney Themed Game. Great Holiday Gift About the Law

3. Colouring book for lawyers. Why should lawyers be left out of the colouring book craze? This book endorses cynicism, sexism, and capitalism. Fun! To see more of this hilarious book, click here. 

Coloring Book for Lawyers

2. 2018 lawyer desk calendar. The box says "jokes, quotes, and anecdotes" so this might be just right if the lawyer in your life just doesn't find his or her daily life so amusing.

1. Satan's Advice to Young Lawyers book. Nuff said.

Can I say in my will that my sons' ex spouses can't get money going to my grandchildren?

Do you ever worry about an ex son-in-law or ex daughter-in-law getting their hands on money you leave to your grandchildren? If so, you're not alone. A question about that topic from a reader prompted today's discussion, so read on.

"Can I state in my will that any monies going to my grandchildren can not be gotten by my sons ex-spouses if my son have passed away and their children are minors?"

This is a topic that comes up regularly in my meetings with clients. Many people leave their estates among their children with instructions that if a child should die before them, the deceased child's children would inherit the deceased child's share. That part is all very well, but the parents are concerned about ensuring that any money that should go to their grandchildren in this situation does actually get to the grandchildren and not to their son-in-law or daughter-in-law. They, rightly, wonder what would happen if the funds were left to a son-in-law or daughter-in-law who then went on to marry someone else. Because the topic comes up so often and has now been raised by this reader, I thought we'd discuss it here today.

The first thing that you need to know about the situation is that if you leave money to a grandchild, or a grandchild becomes entitled to a share of your estate because his or her parent has died, then the grandchild's share is held by a trustee. This will be the case if your grandchild is a minor or has not reached the age you specify in the will. There is a difference between the two because sometimes grandparents say that the grandchildren cannot inherit until they are 21 or older.

The trustee is the person who holds and invests the money on behalf of the grandchild. He or she has full power to decide when to make payments to the grandchild or to third parties on behalf of the grandchildren. The trustee has full control of how the money is spent, as long as he or she is acting in accordance with your will. In the context of today's topic, the trustee becomes important because parents tell me they don't necessarily want their sons-in-law or daughters-in-law to be the ones who decide how the money is spent.

So, who is this trustee we speak of? Unless you say otherwise in your will, the trustee of the grandchildren's money is the executor and trustee of your will. Therefore, your first step in ensuring the money goes where you want it to go is to choose an executor who is going to follow your wishes. As part of this step, make sure you name at least one alternate executor. When there is an alternate available, you ensure that if something happens to your first choice executor, there is someone you trust to step in and carry out your wishes.

If you want to, you can take it a bit further and state that under no circumstances is the spouse of  your deceased child to become the trustee for the children. I've put this into wills where there is a concern about an addiction or where the parents of the grandchildren are experiencing marital troubles that my client thinks may end in a divorce.

Another solution is to choose a trust company as trustees of the trusts that would be held for your grandchildren. This makes most sense where there is a lot of money involved, as there is always a risk when you leave a large sum of money in someone's care for a minor. A trust company will stick to the will, has experience with handling trusts, and has professional money managers in-house.

The second thing you need to do is ensure that your wishes are clearly stated in your will. I am talking about stating who gets to own the money as opposed to who gets to control the money. Say clearly that if your child passes away before you do, you want the full inheritance to go to his or her children. Give straightforward instructions about how old the grandchild must be to inherit.

Most importantly, talk about the discretion you are giving your trustee to use the funds for the child. While the child is a minor, can the funds be used for medical emergencies? What about post-secondary education? And what about general support for the child's lifestyle? This is where your executor and trustee will rely on your will to deal with a son-in-law or daughter-in-law who asks for money from the grandchild's trust. If your will says that while your grandchild is a minor, the funds can be used for whatever he or she needs, what is stopping that grandchild's parent from asking the executor/trustee for a few thousand dollars a month to feed, clothe, and entertain the grandchild? If you don't want that, you have to say so in your will.

While I don't like the idea of controlling from the grave, I am all in favour of setting up detailed wills that offer instruction and support for executors and trustees. The stronger your will, the more likely your wishes will be carried out and the less likely there is going to be a struggle between those left behind.

Merry Christmas, friends

This beautiful photo was taken by Brian Carey Photography. This is a common sight around my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador at Christmas time.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Are family heirlooms no longer cherished the way they used to be?

The issue of what to do with the stuff in the house, garage, shed, and cabin is being discussed every day. What do you plan to do with yours when you pass away? Are you assuming your children and grandchildren will want your china, stamp collection, and figurines?

I hear this in my office every day. Clients tell me that they are trying to give some of their valued treasures to their children while they are alive so that they can see their children enjoy them, only to find the children won't take them. To read more about this issue, click here to see an article from

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

It took 16 years for this son to win the legal battle against a predatory caregiver

A man in New Zealand named Leslie Willis installed a baby monitor in his aging father's room to help him keep an eye on his dad, who was sick with cancer. The things he heard through the monitor raised his suspicions about his father's caregiver, Pamela Thompson.

Leslie then searched his father's home and among other things, found a will in which his father was going to leave his entire estate to the caregiver. When Leslie asked his father about this, his father became upset because that will did not reflect his true wishes. The father went to his lawyer and changed the will back to his previous plan of leaving all to his son.

That wasn't all, though. Leslie also found out that his father had bought $50,000 worth of bonds and put them in joint names with the caregiver. Ms. Thompson claimed that she and the father had a close friendship and he wanted to give her this money, even though she had only worked with this family for a few months.

After the father's death, the mess ended up in court, as you no doubt would expect. Leslie claimed that the caregiver had unduly influenced his vulnerable father. The court battle over the $50,000 bonds took 16 years to resolve. Yes, 16 years! Eventually Leslie won the battle but what a horrible ordeal he went through thanks to one greedy person who tried to take advantage of a sick, old man. Fortunately the father had time to make a new will or that would probably still be in court as well.

It's not always a caregiver who tries to take advantage. It could be a friend, neighbour, or someone in the family. This case should serve as an example of how vulnerable our aging parents can be to opportunistic folks.

If you'd like to read more about this story, click here to see a blog post from the blog called The Sibling Fight (one of my favourite blogs to read) or click here to read the newspaper story that appeared in .

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