Whether we like it or not, death doesn't wait for us to have our ducks in a row to visit us - #amiright? A recent survey indicated that "48% of survey respondents don't yet have wills. For those aged 35-54, that figure jumps to 55%." These numbers aren't shocking when we think about how difficult it is to think about death at any time in life but especially difficult when you are young and healthy. However, these numbers are shocking when we think about how hard we work to build a comfortable life for ourselves and loved ones.
Death is a fear strong enough to compel us to force green drinks down our throats, plug our nose and take shots of wheatgrass, put our sneakers on and run (okay, maybe walk) at 7am on a Monday morning (or any morning), and show our bodies to an individual with cold hands and a stethoscope if we feel like something isn't right.
We do all these things because we fear the "unknown," but WHY do we not prepare for this "unknown"?
Maybe it's the classic case of "out of sight out of mind" mentality? But we need to get a grip and get over this mentality!
For a moment ask yourself these questions: If you were to have died yesterday, do you worry about who would be appointed to distribute your property? Do you have special hopes for who gets your personal property? Do you want to leave your money to a certain individual or a specific charity? Who will take care of your children? Will your company move into the hands of someone you trust? Do you have any end of life wishes?
If you did not answer "yes" to at least one these, then you should check your pulse.
If you did answer "yes" to any of these, you need to read on and see why making a will, and updating your will, is imperative for you and your family.
When you die intestate - without a valid will - your estate goes into probate, a l-e-n-g-t-h-y legal process where the default law of your province administers your estate. Generally, a spouse and children have priority (often shared), followed by parents, and then siblings. Without a Will, more distant relations (think cousins you haven't seen in years, or aunts who, by choice, you haven't seen) can inherit assets. Probably just as important as people getting your estate that you did not want; your estate goes through probate which can eat up more money than the cost of creating a will twenty times over.
Here are 6 more reasons why you want to get over your fear and create a will:
1. You don't want the courts to decide what happens with your assets: Without a will, you do not have an executor to administer the items of your estate as you would've liked. Rather, your assets (no matter how big or small) are distributed by someone (maybe the sister you can't stand or your greedy brother) appointed by the court, which can cause significant delay and create a less than ideal scenario for the assets you worked hard for. Essentially, you are depending on the law and government to decide the economic fate of your estate.
2. Don't assume your children will be looked after: On its own, having a will to designate the guardians of your children should be motivating enough. You shouldn't assume that your parents or relatives will step in to care for your children. If you were to die without a will, the courts will decide who they believe should care for your kids (maybe it's that aunt who has too many cats, or the uncle who plays videogames like its his full-time job) which may not be who you would've wanted. If you want a specific family member, or someone that is not next of kin to care for your children, this should be articulated in a will to ensure that your children are looked after by who you choose.
3. Make a difficult time, less difficult by dividing items, and not families: In many families, emotions run high at the best of times, let alone when confronted with a tragedy. Family members are not always thinking clear when a death occurs so having a detailed will allows this process to run as smooth as possible, giving your family peace of mind that your wishes have been fulfilled. Your wishes should be discussed when you create your will. Maybe daughter really wants the stuffed family parrot to showcase in her living room, but it is given to son who will be using it as target practice - this should have been discussed with both kids prior to a binding decision is made to avoid family arguments. A recent survey indicated that 40% of those who have created an estate plan have not had open conversations about their estate intentions with their children - this means that most of us need to start having these conversations.
4. End of life wishes are a personal choice: Articulating end of life wishes in your will, ensures that your requests are followed as closely as possible. Advance directives give you a voice for your medical care and personal choices (burial plots, cremation, etc.) when you are no longer able to communicate these. Losing the ability to participate in your own decisions is a scary thing and you don't want your pushy mother's demands, or your insensitive sister's desires over powering what you wanted. It is better to let your family know and understand your wishes now than to have them interpreted later in ways you did not intend. It's your turn to make others listen to the decisions you want!
5. The company you have worked so hard to build will be passed onto who YOU decide: You have poured your blood, sweat, and probably many tears into your company so why would you not leave an estate plan to be sure the business will end up in the right hands (and not in your lazy son's hands that will surely drive the business into the ground within 6 months). Making a business succession plan helps beneficiaries avoid costly litigation to fight over who has control of the business, and what rights belong to who.
6. Lastly, you need a will simply because you've paid enough taxes in your life: Meeting with a lawyer who is well-versed in estate planning is essential for tax purposes. A lawyer can walk you through options available reducing taxes that your estate will incur. An in-depth look at your financial goals, assets, and future plans allows for benefits to be passed on to your heirs in the most cost-effective manner. Further, any cost savings that you tried to avoid by not having a lawyer create your will, will quickly evaporate if any matter of your estate is contested in court.
We have a sense of urgency about so many things in life - We need to deposit our paycheques! We need to sign the kids up for soccer this summer! We need to get to the care dealership this weekend! But most of us never really have that sense of urgency for making a will. This is interesting as a will protects our finances, kids, and assets, the very things we works so hard for. Lets prepare ourselves for the "unknown" and muster up a sense of urgency about making a will!
BMO Wealth Management, Estate Planning for Complex Family Dynamics, March 2017