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.