“Oh yeah, I need to make that appointment.” I hear this so frequently from successful people who generally have made sound financial choices. Let’s face it – it’s difficult to conjure up a sense of urgency about a future event – death – one that we expect is half a lifetime or decades away. Why do you need to have a will now?
Let’s start with a fictitious case. You have been separated from your spouse for 3 years. Once it was clear there was no turning back, you moved on and are now in a stable relationship. You’re living together but there’s no divorce and you’re undecided whether or not your current relationship will lead to marriage. You adore your 2 teenage children who live with you and both have promising academic prospects.
If you passed away at this point without a will, the Succession Law Reform Act of Ontario determines that your legal spouse will receive the first $200,000.00 of your estate. Your current partner may or may not be entitled to raise a claim for support from your estate. Your children will inherit 2/3 and your legal spouse 1/3 of whatever is leftover. Whether or not your estate will be available to support your teenagers through their post-secondary education will be up in the air.
This leads to the 5 top reasons you need to have a will executed:
1. You, and not the default law of your region, will determine who receives which share of your estate. It is wise to obtain legal advice about who your dependants are, and therefore who would have legitimate claims for support from your estate.
2. If you have sole custody of your children, then you will have the right to determine who will assume custody in your place for the first 90 days if you pass away. Your choice will likely be influential in the judge’s decision, but the ultimate order for ongoing custody rests with a judge who decides what is in the best interests of the children involved. You might want to write a letter explaining how your choice meets the legal tests the judge would have to consider.
3. You will have the opportunity to appoint a trustee to hold the designated portion of your estate, and to make decisions about how funds are allocated to your children before they reach a certain age. For example, you may decide it would not be in your children’s best interests to receive a large inheritance at the age of 19. The funds may be controlled by someone you trust to make those decisions until they have reached a certain age such as 25.
4. You will have the opportunity to plan to minimize your estate’s tax exposure.
5. You will be able to thoughtfully appoint someone, or more than one person you trust, to wrap up your estate. A lot of confusion and extra burdens at an emotionally difficult time are avoided if you get consent from the people you wish to appoint in advance.
In most cases, for less than the amount you would spend on a car repair or new furniture, you can take care of these questions by consulting with a lawyer about your will. Although the chances of an early, tragic end to your life are small, your loved ones will be grateful for your advance planning.