Wills: Do We Need Them?


The following is a short story based on true events that happened to clients of mine. It is intended to show the importance of having a will in place.

Clients John and Sally, aged 58 and 56, had two adult daughters, Marie and Julie. Marie was married to Paul, and they had a 1-year-old baby boy named Danny; they were both employed and living happy lives as a new family. Julie was single, had fallen on hard times financially and was living on welfare.

One day, John and Sally called the office to inform us that Marie, Paul and Danny were involved in a head-on collision with an impaired driver on the main street of their small community. Both Marie and Paul were killed instantly, but miraculously, baby Danny was pulled from the back seat uninjured.

Marie and Paul had never gotten around to completing a will, and because of this, as per BC law, Danny was immediately appointed a public trustee as his guardian. John and Sally sought legal advice as they wanted to apply for guardianship of their grandchild. After discussing options with the lawyer, due to John and Sally’s age, he advised them to have Julie apply to be Danny’s guardian.

As the story of the accident and Danny’s life being spared made headline news across the province, a couple in a nearby town who had been trying to adopt for some time heard the story and applied to become the guardians for Danny as well.

In court, the lawyer asked Julie how she was going to be able to support Danny, since she was single and on welfare. At this point, John jumped up out of frustration and announced that Marie and Paul had a life insurance policy for $250,000 to go to Danny and that would help cover any financial burdens. The judge scolded John for his outburst and explained that the money was Danny’s and should not be counted on as the only means to support him.

The other couple who had been seeking custody of Danny had been married for several years and were financially successful. Due to these circumstances, with Danny’s well-being in mind, the judge awarded Danny to the other couple.

After being awarded custody of Danny, the couple also sought to become the trustees of Danny’s death benefit and were awarded that as well.

My clients spent most of their life savings attempting to have the ruling overturned to allow them to keep their grandchild, but it was all to no avail. John and Sally could no longer deal with the losses and ended up moving away. It was not long after this that John was diagnosed with cancer and passed away a short time later.

If Marie and Paul had completed a will and named a guardian and trustee for Danny, perhaps there would have been a happier ending. Wills are like “love notes” telling the people we love that we care about them.

The Clark Wilson LLP Wealth Preservation Group and Leave a Legacy Vancouver program of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners worked closely to help build awareness for Make a Will Week (MAWW), a Ministry of Justice campaign that encourages people to create and maintain an up-to-date will. An up-to-date will ensures that the people, charities and organizations you care about most receive the benefit of your estate. Visit our blogs all week for key posts related to MAWW and will preparation.