Category: Wills & Estates

Who Needs an Estate Plan?

The topic of estate planning usually conjures up thoughts of wealthy people with complicated situations but if you own any kind of property, for example, a house, RRSP’s, life insurance, then you have an estate, and as a result, you should also have a plan.

It doesn’t really matter the value of your house, RRSP or life insurance policy, and it’s amazing, especially with a house or life insurance, what that number can add up to, so sometimes people who have very modest incomes can have estates of a million dollars or more.

We recommend that every person keep a record of all your assets, make sure that you have your property titled correctly, and also make sure that you have the beneficiary arrangements set up properly, especially life insurance through work which many times gets overlooked, and in the event of marriage, a divorce, or the death of a beneficiary, those don’t get changed.

How your property, such as a house, should be titled depends on your marital situation, but typically married couples want to have property titled joint with right of survivorship.  Although sometimes you can’t avoid probate, life insurance and other registered products such as RRSP’s with beneficiary designations will pass by contract. If property is titled in just your name, then it will have to go through probate. 

Documents that are important to have regardless of your estate size: (1) a Will is the first document that you need and it is your opportunity to designate who gets your property; (2) a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property gives someone the right to make financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated or from a convenience perspective; for example, you could be traveling or out of the country and maybe the cell phone provider needs to be changed or your spouse needs to make a financial transaction, with a power of attorney for property he or she will be able to do that; (3) a Power of Attorney for Care gives someone the authority to make healthcare decisions on your behalf.

We recommend that your Will and Powers of Attorney (together with birth certificate, passport, marriage licence, divorce order, insurance papers, etc) be kept in a binder or envelope, so that if there is an emergency, such as a fire, you know where it is and can grab it and run out the door.  It’s also a good idea to keep these important documents in a fireproof safe at home or a bank security box.

9 Reasons to Have a Will

While the reason for preparing a Will may vary from person to person, here are 9 reasons to have a Will in place.

1.       A Will is an opportunity for you to choose what happens to your money when you pass away.  When you pass away intestate or without a Will, you lose that opportunity, and your estate is distributed to your next of kin as set out in the Ontario Succession Law Reform Act. Therefore, you risk your estate being distributed in a manner you would not agree with.
 
2.     A Will is an opportunity for you to choose who will administer your estate.  Without a Will, a court will appoint your Executor, and an Executor has the biggest role in the distribution of your estate.
 
3.     A Will is an opportunity for you to choose who will take care of your children.  Absent a Will, a court will appoint a family member or provincially-appointed Guardian for your minor children.
 
4.     A Will saves time and money.  Having a Will makes administering your estate much easier and significantly less expensive.
 
5.     A Will can minimize taxes.  Proper Will planning can minimize income tax and estate administration tax or probate fees, which is an opportunity for you to increase the value of your estate for your beneficiaries to enjoy.
 
6.     Charitable donations.  A Will is an opportunity for you to make charitable gifts, which may allow your legacy to live on, reflect your personal values and interests, and has tax benefits to boot.
 
7.     Disinherit individuals who would otherwise inherit.  Absent a Will, your estate may end-up in the wrong hands or may pass to an unintended beneficiary, such as an estranged family member or ex-spouse. 
 
8.     Major life events.  Any significant change in your life circumstances, such as a family birth, adoption, death, divorce or separation, may necessitate making or changing your Will. 
 
9.     Because tomorrow is not promised.  Sometimes the realization that a Will is necessary comes too late such as when an unexpected death or disability occurs.  As long as you have the required mental capacity, a Will can be made or changed at any time.

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