by Richard Bell
A Will is the legal document that distributes your estate upon your death. It is estimated that over 50% of adults do not have a Will. The main reasons seem to be procrastination and lack of knowledge of what happens if you die without a Will. We tend to forget that we can be at the wrong place at the wrong time or have a health event that results in lacking time to prepare a Will or capacity to make a Will. You only need to watch or read the news from time to time to fully appreciate the randomness of our passing. So, regardless of your age and circumstances the experts agree that everyone should have a Will.
If you do not have a Will provincial legislation determines who inherits your estate – this may be different from your wishes. If you have minor children your spouse may not inherit your entire estate. Provincial legislation may require that your estate be shared with your children and your spouse would need to deal with the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee. Lots of nice people work at the office of the Public Guardian and Trustee but do you really want to put your spouse in this position.
Without a Will, if spouses, married or common law, pass away without children the spouses’ families would likely be entitled to share equally in the estate – again not necessarily what a couple would want. You lose the ability to give to family that may have a greater need or with whom you have a closer relationship or to make bequests to charities.
If there are minor children and no spouse then the children receive their inheritance at 19 years of age which could mean lots of new friends and habits that may put a child’s life on a very self-destructive path.
And without a Will you increase the cost of probating your estate. Probate is a process whereby legal authority is granted enabling the distribution of an estate. When a person dies without a Will they are said to have died “intestate”. Where someone has died intestate, prior to an application for probate, a court application will be necessary. The court appoints a member of the family or a friend as an “Administrator”. The Administrator performs the same role as an Executor appointed pursuant to a Will. Normally the family would hire a lawyer to handle the legal side of applying for the appointment of an Administrator resulting in increased costs, delays in the time required to probate an estate and potential additional stress on the surviving loved ones.
Stress on surviving loved ones is something that is often not considered when people neglect getting their Will. Most of the baby boomer and older generation have lost loved ones or close friends. There is significant stress dealing with the loss and the grieving is made that much more challenging by the extra work, costs and time involved in processing an estate where there is no Will.
So the best advice from all the experts: if you don’t have a Will get one done and if you have a Will that was done more than 10 years ago it’s time to take a look and see if you need to make any changes. Your family will thank you!