Complex estate planning may require a professional’s touch

As people live their lives, if they are fortunate, they will meet people who become important to them. Some people may wish to leave a gift for these special individuals after they pass away. However, if there is some level of secrecy to the relationship, an open bequest may not be suitable. The question then becomes, can a person in Alberta bequeath assets secretly as part of his or her estate planning? The answers are as complicated as the situations they cover.

When a person dies and leaves a will, it typically goes through probate before an executor administers the estate. During this process, the will becomes a matter of public record, and its contents are no longer a secret. Any attempt to leave assets to an unnamed beneficiary will almost certainly become a contentious issue and may cause a challenge to the will.

It might be possible to leave an asset to a named beneficiary but prearrange with that individual that the asset is then to be given in secrecy to the intended recipient. This would require an immense amount of trust in that person because, as beneficiary, he or she would be legally allowed to keep the asset for him or herself. Another option is to make an arrangement with a trust company. A trust could be paid out to the beneficiary but would not be part of the estate, and therefore not subject to probate and inevitable revelation. Of course, no matter what the method is, it is possible that someone will notice the flow of funds from an account, assuming the gift is monetary, and decide to investigate further.

An attempt to leave a secret gift will certainly be a challenge for anyone who feels he or she needs to do so. For the best chance at success, it may be a good idea to discuss the situation with a lawyer. A lawyer who has experience with estate planning in Alberta can help with this and other complicated estate issues.

Source:, “Leaving money to a secret beneficiary is very, very tricky, experts warn“, David Hodges, April 27, 2017

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