If you've put off making your will, you're not alone - two-thirds of BC parents with children under the age of 18 don't have a will. Unfortunately, not having a will can make things more complicated for the family and friends you leave behind, and could mean that your estate isn't distributed according to your wishes.
Some people postpone making a will because the process seems complicated or difficult. If you're in that situation, I have good news: making a will is easy! In our third article for our Make a Will Week series, we'll demystify the process of making a will.
Step 1: Ask for Help!
When dealing with any legal issue, it's a good idea to consult an expert. While you can buy kits to make a will yourself, unless you speak to a legal professional there's always a risk that a DIY will could cause complications for your family after you pass away. Especially if you have minor children or complicated assets, it's important to get legal advice when making a will.
Many lawyers (including our lawyers at McBOP!) are able to do simple wills for a set fee, so you know what you'll be paying from the very beginning. For more complicated wills, it may make more sense for your lawyer to bill at an hourly rate. If you're interested in making a will, consider contacting us. Once we have an idea of your needs, we can give you an assessment of what your will is likely to cost.
Step 2: What's in Your Estate?
The next step in making an estate plan is to figure out what assets you own. This means thinking about big assets, like real estate and investments, as well as any small but meaningful assets that you want to make plans for, like jewelry or collectibles you'd like to gift to someone specific.
You'll also want to plan for how to pay for your debts. Your debts will be paid from your estate before inheritances are distributed to beneficiaries, and will affect how much your beneficiaries will inherit when you pass away.
Making a list of your assets and debts before your first meeting with a lawyer will be a big time-saver, and will help give your lawyer information they need to provide you with tailored legal advice.
Step 3: Pick an Executor
One of the big decisions to make in your will is deciding who will act as your executor. Your executor is responsible for getting your assets in order, arranging to pay any debts you still owe when you pass away, and distributing your estate to your beneficiaries according to the instructions in your will.
When choosing an executor, it's a good idea to name a responsible person who lives nearby - it will be easier for them to deal with your assets if they can visit your bank branch or meet with your investment adviser in person. If you don't want to name any family members or friends as your executor, let your lawyer know - many estate lawyers are willing to act as executors for a fee.
It's also a good idea to name alternate executors, in case your first choice isn't able to act for you. Try to think of two or three people who could act as your executor.
Step 4: Pick your Beneficiaries
For many people, the most important thing you will do in your will is give instructions about who you would like to inherit your estate. This is the step where you can decide what kind of legacy you'd like to leave behind.
The Wills, Estates and Succession Act in BC puts an obligation on anyone making a will to "make adequate provision" for their spouse and children. As a result, it's important to make sure you give your lawyer detailed information about your family. If you would prefer not to name your spouse or one of your children as a beneficiary in your will, it's extremely important to get legal advice on the potential consequences of that decision.
While it can be difficult to think about, it's also important to think about naming "just in case" beneficiaries. Sadly, sometimes the people you would like to inherit your estate may pass away before you do. In that case, naming an alternate beneficiary in your will is a good way to ensure your wishes will still be respected.
Remember that you can name charitable organizations as beneficiaries in your will! Making a charitable bequest in your will is a great way to support causes you care about and give back to your community.
Step 5: Pick a Guardian for Minor Children
If you have young children, it may be a good idea to name a guardian for them in your will. This is a sensitive decision, so if you have questions about naming a guardian for children make sure to talk to your lawyer.
Step 6: Approve the Draft and Sign It
Your lawyer will send you a draft version of your will to review, or may set up a meeting to review the draft in person. Read it through carefully, and make sure to let your lawyer if you have any questions or would like to make any changes.
Once you're happy with the final draft, you'll have to come in for one last meeting to sign your will in front of two witnesses. Then you're done!
All in all, making a will usually only requires two meetings - one to let your lawyer know what you want in your will, and one to sign it once you've approved a final draft. Our lawyers and staff will do their best to make the process as easy as possible, so you can have peace of mind knowing you've got a plan in place for the future.
If you're interested in making or updating your will, please get in touch! Our estate planning lawyers are happy to answer your questions and set up an appointment at a time that works for you.