Should you have a Will?
Written By: John Klotz
A will is an important part of any good financial plan. Yet, why do so many of us avoid putting down our final requests on paper?
As human beings, we are not completely in sync with the concept of our own mortality. So, it’s not unusual that many Canadians are real procrastinators when it comes to making a will. We are just not comfortable with the idea of addressing our post mortem affairs.
Many families avoid discussing the all important topic of estate planning because it can be emotional and difficult. Other families avoid the topic because they know it may be a contentious issue. What is true though, is that none of us can avoid death, and discussing and making a Will is part of good, financial housekeeping. While this article is not intended to replace the trusted advice of your financial advisor and your lawyer, it can act as a good starting point for a family conversation.
The Will is a key element of estate planning. It allows you to provide for an orderly distribution of your assets in accordance with your desires and in a way that can minimize the tax burden on your estate and on your heirs. The Will is the document that gives substance to your estate plan. It pulls together your assets and your personal wishes. It will nominate your executor(s), name a guardian(s) for your children if applicable, and most importantly, include how and to whom you wish your assets to be distributed.
If you went away for the weekend and left teenage children at home, would you not leave a note on the fridge with instructions for your kids? The only difference between the will and the note on the fridge is that with the will, you are not returning home after the weekend! So, it had better be a very good note!
That brings us to the topic of the “do it yourself” will kits that you can find at BusinessDepot or G&T. For $6.95, your final affairs can be put in order. For some of us, this might be sufficient. Yet, what is your estate is more complicated? What if there is an ex-spouse who demands rights to your assets upon your demise? What if the will is contested? What if it is out of date? If you really want to take your will seriously, you should have a lawyer put it together for you. Rates are reasonable and the impact can be eternal. As well, an uncontested will can save your estate a fortune in legal fees.
Many of you have worked with advisors to gain control of your financial affairs. To maintain that control, a Will ensures that our wishes are carried out upon our death. If you die“intestate” , or without a Will, your family members may not necessarily inherit your estate. In Ontario, the terms of the Family Law Act provide how the balance of your estate is divided. Your spouse is entitled to the first $200,000 of your estate and the balance will be divided among your spouse and children in specific proportions. If there is a bad feeling between the children and the surviving spouse, you can only imagine what type of difficulties and intestate situation would produce.
A will also allows you to designate assets for a charity of your choice. This designation can have a very positive effect on your final tax return.
Besides making a Will, you should discuss another document, called a Continuing Power of Attorney ,with your advisor. In the event that you can’t manage your own affairs because of a stroke, disease or physical injury, the person named in your Power of Attorney, typically your spouse, steps in. If you don’t have this document in place, the public trustee’s office would likely enter the picture, which may create undue stress for your family. The Power of Attorney for Property document allows you to name somebody to manage your financial affairs and the Power of Attorney for Personal Care document allows another person to make decisions about your health. Each province has specific provincial guidelines for powers of attorney that you may wish to explore with the assistance of your financial advisor.
Have you heard ships that they have in the legal profession. Depending on the complexity of your situation, they may also suggest other professionals such as tax specialiststhis before, “I’m not wealthy enough to need a Will”! Nothing could be farther from the truth. Estate planning can be simple or complex. You may have a few investments or an RSP. You may own a home, or have a favorite charity. Regardless of your wealth, you owe it to your family and friends to “plan your estate”, which will ensure that your assets are distributed smoothly and in accordance with your wishes, after your death. While having a Will won’t ease the pain and grief of your death, it can leave your friends and family “peace of mind” knowing that your wishes are being followed.
For further information regarding this article, please contact John Klotz. John is President of Northwood Mortgage Life. You can reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 416-969-8130 ext. 230.