Dear David: a friend of mine just scolded me for not having a will. I just turned 30, why would I need one at this point? – STILL YOUNG
DEAR YOUNG: Anyone over the age of majority can, and probably should, have a formal will in place. None of us knows what the future holds. Should the unexpected happen, it’s important to set out clear instructions for those we leave behind. A will can address pressing issues at the time of your death, like whether you wish to be buried or cremated, and can also ensure your possessions are shared in a way that makes sense to you.
Any property you own should be part of your estate, as can financial holdings like a pension plan or stock options from your employer. You may wish to pass these on to specific people or make donations to causes that are meaningful to you, such as an animal shelter or place of worship. This document can also include instructions for managing personal possessions with monetary or sentimental value. While your family may not realize you want your baseball card collection to go to your best friend from grade school, having the information available will equip them to carry out your wishes, and lessen any uncertainty in their time of grief.
The will-writing process starts when you meet with your lawyer, which can take place virtually for now. Your lawyer will ask you to choose an executor. In the event of your death, this executor will be responsible for holding your estate in trust, making important decisions on your behalf, and passing on your assets to the people or causes you have chosen.
Should you pass away without a will, the province of Ontario has the power to decide how your assets will be dispersed and can settle your estate according to its own rules. The provincial process may be slower and more costly than it needs to be, and may overlook some important beneficiaries, such as a common-law spouse.
While you’re making decisions about your will, it’s a good time to establish Powers of Attorney (POA). Separate POAs are needed for your finances and medical decisions. Having this pair of documents on file will ensure there someone trustworthy who can manage your money, property and medical decisions should you become incapable of doing so.
If you own a home currently or plan to purchase one in the future, it’s important to have a “just in case” plan in place to manage what is typically the largest asset in a homeowner’s portfolio. If you have a spouse or children, it’s even more important to create a will and keep it updated as your family grows. As I’ve mentioned previously, a will is not a “set it and forget it” document, but something that should be amended through the years as your situation changes.
PRO TIP: On the topic of estate planning, you should probably also consider buying life insurance if you’re purchasing a home with a family in tow. Should the unexpected happen, it can help you to take care of those you love, long after you’re gone. #AskDavid #Advice
David Schooley is the author of “Ask David…” a weekly real estate advice column published by the Kitchener-Waterloo Record.