Joint Asset Planning Kit

The Joint Asset Planning Kit

Joint Asset Planning Kit

The Joint Asset Planning Kit™ in the Media

The Regina Leader-Post

'A Will Alone Isn't Enough'

How to keep your kids from fighting over the assets

Irene Seiberling
The Leader-Post

Joint accounts can create family wars -- something Barry Fish knows all about.

The Toronto-based wills and estates lawyer is no stranger to family squabbles. He's spent more than 30 years dealing with inheritance disputes.

"There are many tragic stories," Fish said in a telephone interview from his Yonge Street office.

When a joint account is shared by an elderly parent and adult child, it can trigger inheritance battles with siblings, Fish pointed out.

When the parent dies, who gets the money? Was the money in the account intended as a gift for the child named on the joint account alone? Or, was the joint account set up for convenience only, and the parent's intention was to have the money -- like everything else specified in the parent's will -- divided equally among the siblings?

If all family members agree to what should be done, there's no problem. If not, it can lead to a destructive and costly family estate battle.

"We're trying to avoid that," Fish said

So when the Supreme Court of Canada changed the law regarding joint assets -- such as bank accounts, homes and investments -- in early May, Fish and his law associates decided what was needed was a lawyer-prepared document that clearly states a parent's intentions.

To eliminate any ambiguities involving joint accounts, Fish & Associates created a Joint Asset Planning Kit, which is available to the public for $45, plus taxes and shipping, for a printed version. Electronic versions aren't available yet.

Because the death of a parent who shared a joint account with a child results in legal battles so frequently, the Supreme Court of Canada recently issued a ruling to help clear up the matter, Fish explained. Now, most assets held jointly by a parent and a child will not automatically become the child's asset when the parent dies, he said. Instead, what happens to the joint asset on death will be determined by the parent's intention. And if the beneficiaries of the parent's estate can't agree on what the parent's intention was, the court will decide who gets the asset.

So it's crucial to make the parent's intentions clear, Fish emphasized.

"It just came to me to crystallize the intention so expressly that no one could ever circumvent it," he said.

That's where the joint asset planning kit comes in.

"We say 'kit' because it's prepackaged," Fish said. "There are no variables. The document is precise. It is simply reciting what you have and you sign it. Further, the way we have you sign it -- again, no variables -- makes it impossible for it to revoke your will."

There's a special clause in the declaration that protects the joint asset from a son-in-law or daughter-in-law, in the event the son or daughter gets separated or divorced.

"It puts to bed all the questions," Fish said.

To illustrate, Fish described a rather typical family situation: Take a typical family configuration: Mom, Dad, and three kids. Then move the time line a bit, into the later years. Mom has passed away and only Dad is left. Sister is now looking after Dad, acting as a caregiver. And it's a serious encroachment on sister's life. One year becomes three years, and four years, and so on and so forth.

In the process of all of this happening, no one's particularly hostile towards anyone else.

In his will, Dad expresses his wishes to have his estate split equally among all three children.

But for convenience, a good portion of his assets are in a joint account, so sister can write the utility bill cheque or make deposits.

"It's logical because it's very convenient," Fish pointed out. "This is very common, very neutral."

Nobody gets too excited about it -- until Dad dies.

"And lo and behold, sis is told by the banker (and this isn't dramatic either), 'Well, Dad had this account with you, and investments with you on joint account with right of survivorship, so the money is yours," Fish continued.

In this case, did Dad intend sister to benefit from that money because she had sacrificed herself over such a long period of time? Or, did he intend that sister share that money with her two siblings as part of the estate?

The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision sheds some light on the situation, Fish said.

"Unquestionably, the law will assume that Dad intended sister to share -- no matter what sister says happened along the line."

Had Dad signed a declaration of intention for all his joint assets, he could have spared his children considerable grief, because his intentions would have been clear.

"That's all it takes," Fish said matter-of-factly.

There are two options in the joint asset planning kit. One states that the named joint owner gets the assets; the other states that the assets go to the estate.

A will alone isn't enough, Fish insists. "The first knee-jerk reaction is, 'Oh well, I've got a will. Or, I've got a will and a power of attorney.' But the sad part is that you can say whatever you want on those documents and cry until you're blue in the face, but they don't address this problem."

That's why a declaration of intention is so important, he emphasized repeatedly.

There are three ways to order a Joint Account Declaration: online at; by phone at 1-877-439-3999; or by e-mail at

Fish has also co-authored two books on estate planning and estate disputes. The Family Fight: Planning to Avoid It addresses parents, focusing on the importance of communicating so your kids don't fight with each other. The Family War: Winning the Inheritance Battle addresses the fighting kids.







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