Every November, make-a-Will month highlights an important legal document that every Canadian should have but many don’t. See my past article, Why do I need a Will? for more information on the importance of making a Will.
After deciding it is time to make a Will, you may wonder where to start. Estate planning can seem like a daunting process. While its always the best idea to speak with a lawyer about your specific situation, here are some questions to help start the process of estate planning.
Is there anyone who I would legally have to support in life that I should plan for after death?
Before considering who should receive what from your estate, you should first consider if there is anyone who you would have a legal obligation to support, such as minor children or a spouse. It is very important that any person who would need to be supported by you in life is added to your Will as a beneficiary (someone who receives under your Will). There are legislative clauses that do step in to protect individuals who are owed support but have not been included in your Will, such as an option for a spouse to receive an equalization payment from your assets instead of what has been gifted under your Will, but it is a good starting point when thinking of your estate planning to consider anyone already relying on your support.
Who do I want to receive under my Will? Do I want to make a specific gift to them or just let them share in the balance of my assets?
When preparing a Will, there are several ways you can gift to a beneficiary. You can gift them a specific item, such as a cherished family heirloom, you can give them a lumpsum amount, or you can have them share in the residue or balance of your estate. Considering who should receive what and how they should receive it is important to think about in the estate planning process.
Is there someone I trust to administer my estate, or should I consider a professional?
Besides considering your beneficiaries, another part of the Will drafting process is selecting an estate trustee. The estate trustee is someone who will be responsible for administering your estate after your death and ensuring your wishes are carried out according to your Will. This is not an easy job so it is important to consider whether there is someone in your life who would be able to take on this job for you and would be able to organize the various steps in administering the estate. This doesn’t need to be someone with any special skills, but they should be organized, trustworthy and know when they should hire a professional to help them. For some people, they may not have anyone in their life who would be able to fill this role, which is where professionals such as trust companies, lawyers or accountants can come in. These professionals or companies are paid from the estate but are experts in administering estates. Usually, you can contract for a specific price with trust companies before your death so it may be preferable to speak with such a company during the planning process.
Do I have any assets that would need a secondary Will?
Certain assets may be taxed differently than others after your death, such as corporate assets. If you have these types of assets, it may be useful to speak with a lawyer about whether it would be best to use a primary and secondary Will to help avoid probate tax after death.
After considering the questions above, it is time to speak with a lawyer to prepare your estate plans and make sure you have the proper advice for your specific situation.