Estate Planning

Wills and PAs

Make sure your affairs are settled according to your wishes. Start by focusing on the basics, which include a properly drafted Will, the selection of an executor and a Power of Attorney.

Your Will

Your Will is arguably the most important component of your estate plan. If you die without one, you're said to have died "intestate". When this happens, the provincial government steps in and settles your estate for you, deciding who receives your assets, based on guidelines that vary by province. If there is no surviving spouse, the government may also be responsible for naming guardians for your children. The simple way to avoid losing control of your estate is to draft a Will.

While you can attempt to write a Will yourself using a kit, it's generally advisable to go the professional  route to minimize the opportunity for misinterpretation. Although cost to develop your Will increase based on the complexity of your estate, a basic Will can be drafted for a reasonable fee - money well spent if it helps to avoid legal battles later on.

For some people, preparing a Will can be daunting task. But if you think of it merely as your instructions for how you want your estate settled, it's not nearly so intimidating. To be effective, your Will should:

Identify your executor the person(s) who will act on your behalf

Name guardians for any minor or dependent children

Detail income provisions for your dependants

Set out your funeral instructions

Document the terms of any trusts to be established

  Detail special bequests and the distribution of specific assets such as heirlooms, antiques, art, and collectibles

Direct your executor to pay off your debt

Specify how the remainder of your estate is to be distributed, after all bequests have been made.

Your Power of Attorney (PAs)

Another key estate planning document is the Power of Attorney, which allows you to appoint someone to manage your financial affairs on your behalf, should you become unable to do so while you are alive.

Like a Will, a Power of Attorney is best drafted by a professional who can assist you in defining the circumstances under which it can go into effect, and how much authority your named representative will have. If you don't have a Power of Attorney and you become incapacitated, the public trustee of your provincial government will take over the management of your finances.

A Living Will, also known as a Power of Attorney for personal care, allows you to appoint someone to act on your behalf to make health-care decisions should you become incapacitated. It also allows you to stipulate the particular care you want or don't want in certain situations.

Keep in mind that the person(s) you select to act on your behalf may be faced with difficult decisions (such as rejecting certain treatments) that could affect your well-being and quality of life. Be sure to discuss your intentions with family and friends to make sure your wishes are not overruled.

Although some provinces provide government forms for this purpose, you're best to have a Living Will prepared by a lawyer when you are drafting your Will and Power of Attorney.

The information contained in this commentary is designed to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to be comprehensive advice applicable to the circumstances of any individual. We strongly urge you to seek professional assistance before acting upon information included herein.

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