You may have heard the oft-quoted words of Benjamin Franklin “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, given my background in English Literature, I admittedly prefer Margaret Mitchell’s quote from Gone With the Wind “Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”
These quotes ring true for a reason. Death is both inevitable and unpredictable. It doesn’t matter whether you’re thirty, or middle-aged and running multiple marathons; everyone is vulnerable to these truths, which means it is important to plan now. We have all heard or experienced the stories of someone who passed away too young or suddenly, despite leading an active and healthy life.
While the task of planning for your own death can seem daunting and unpleasant, the consequences of passing away without a will can be disastrous. People that you intended to look after during your life can suddenly be left without proper provisions and once happy and thriving relationships can fall into disarray.
When you pass away without a will or without a valid will, it is called an “intestacy.” I stress the word “valid” because there are people out there who simply write something down on a napkin before they get on a plane or who purchase an “at home will kit,” only to leave behind very disappointed loved ones and a nightmare of administrative costs and problems.
If you pass away intestate, your assets are distributed according to law. In Ontario, the governing law is the Succession Law Reform Act. While the law tries to make provisions for intestacy, it is an attempt at a “one-size-fits-all” solution. For example, many people are surprised to find out that the law only makes provisions for a “spouse” if you are legally married. It does not include common-law spouses. People are also surprised to learn that if they have children who survive them, their spouse will not inherit their entire estate. Further complications can also arise when there are disabled loved ones, adopted children, step-children and other financial dependents.
Making a will allows you to avoid potentially calamitous consequences. You can decide who can inherit when you pass away, how much they will inherit, when they will get their inheritance, as well as how they will receive the gift you have left behind.
Retaining a lawyer to assist you with your will can help you protect the funds you’ve spent your life building. We can save you money by making administration of your will cost-efficient and by identifying risks to your estate. We can also help you save taxes and fees. We can help you make decisions, such as who would make a good executor, and provide you with advice about any unique circumstances you may have. We have a wealth of knowledge to help you protect those who matter most to you and we believe this investment is one of the most important ones you can make.