This guest post was contributed by Curtis Clavelle. Curtis practices family law with Robertson Stromberg LLP.

Most parents intend to leave at least a portion of their estates to their children. What some parents may not realize is that the inheritance they leave their children could turn into “divisible family property” down the road in the event a child’s spousal relationship ends. That reality means that if your child goes through a divorce, their ex-spouse may have a legal entitlement to some of the inheritance. This may produce a result that you never intended.

The intention of this article is to provide practical tips to try and avoid this result.

Firstly, the timing of the inheritance is an important factor.

If your child receives their inheritance prior to marriage or entering a common-law relationship, then they can claim an exemption for the inheritance pursuant to section 23 of The Family Property Act (Saskatchewan). What this means is that if your child later separates from their spouse they can claim that the value of their inheritance at the start of the spousal relationship should not be shared since they received it prior to the relationship.

However, if the inheritance is received after your child’s spousal relationship commenced they cannot claim an exemption for the inheritance i.e. they cannot claim that it should not be divided at all with their spouse in the event of separation. However, they can claim an unequal division of the inheritance under section 21 of The Family Property Act (Saskatchewan), which can help ensure that they keep more than half of the inheritance.

Secondly, it matters what your child does with their inheritance.

Homes and household good are treated specially under the law. For example, if they invest the inheritance into a house for their family to live in, they would lose the ability to claim an exemption even if the inheritance was received prior to the start of the relationship. The home would be, presumptively, equally divided between the parties. As another example, if your child uses their inheritance to purchase furniture (which is technically considered a household good under the legislation) they will not be able to claim that portion of the inheritance as exempt.

As a result, it’s a good idea to explain to your children that they should be careful how they spend their inheritance, and potentially seek legal advice before making any large purchases.

Because of how these items are treated differently, in general the best thing your child can do with their inheritance is keep it in a separate bank or investment account and not use the funds for family spending or purchases. This is, understandably, not practical in many cases. However, ideally if they have another source of funds to use for these purchases then those funds should be used rather than their inheritance, where possible.

Thirdly, your intention matters.

If there are ever disputes in the future over how much of an inheritance your child’s estranged spouse may be entitled to, one factor the court examines is what your intention in leaving the gift to your child was. This is why it becomes very important that you have a specific clause in your Will indicating that you only intend for your child’s inheritance to benefit your child, and not their spouse. We recommend you seek legal advice in drafting your Will to ensure the proper wording is included in this clause.