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Working with an Estate Planning Lawyer

You’ve finally decided that you are ready to put together an estate plan (preparation of wills, trusts, and power of attorneys etc.) but are not sure about what the process will involve.

Here’s a quick list of some items that you should be prepared for:

Get specific about your assets

  • There’s no estate plan without discussing financials. All assets need to be considered and reviewed along with designations which may need to be changed, updated, or revised. These include not only your home, investments, shares, or bank accounts but also things like life insurance policies, registered plans etc. Not giving these items attention could lead to problems.

Get clear on what you want

  • Who should inherit your assets after you pass away?
  • Who should be looking after your affairs (funeral, debts, taxes, administration and distribution).
  • Who is the best suited to look after your minor or dependent children?
  • Should you consider an insurance trust agreement in order to provide further protection?
  • Are certain life-interest trusts or spousal trusts (possibly in a second-marriage scenario) required to further protect what you’ve earned and to ensure that not only is your spouse is protected during his or her lifetime but the capital of the trust is reserved for other persons?

Get the right opinion

  • You likely have some thoughts on your plan and who it should benefit but aren’t sure about the right way of bringing them to life. The best way to sort out is to speak to a professional (lawyer, financial advisor, and accountant) with a focus in this area. An opinion from a qualified professional is invaluable in making the decisions that suit your needs and protect your assets.

Get writing

  • Generally, the first step is for you to fill out a questionnaire to provide personal information in order for us to be able to assess your needs and tailor the plan accordingly.

The above is only a general idea of what is involved. Feel free to call us to get the process underway.

Disclaimer: The above is for informational purposes only and does not serve as legal advice. Please speak to your lawyer to better assess your specific situation and estate planning needs.

Estate planning for Separated Couples – reasons to get your will done or re-done

In Ontario, simply being separated from your spouse and not obtaining legal divorce may put your estate plan in jeopardy. Section 17(2) of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) provides that for parties that have obtained legal divorce, any reference to a former spouse in an individual’s will is revoked and the will is construed as if the former spouse had predeceased the testator (party preparing the will). This is helpful due to the simple fact that after divorce, there is clearly a shift in interests and priorities and the law protects you in this regard. However, unlike the provision protecting those who obtain a divorce, there is no similar provision in a situation where spouses are just separated. That being said, it is a common misconception to believe that if you are separated, your ex-spouse will not inherit anything.

In fact, where spouses are separated (assuming no update to the will) and one party passes away, the surviving spouse maintains his or her entitlement under the will. The result is not much different if there was no will to begin with – the separated spouse may still qualify under the definition of a “spouse” under the intestacy rules.

A simple example may serve to bring the point home: if you have separated from your spouse (and not obtained a divorce) and own property jointly, the property may pass to the former spouse automatically. A visit to the lawyer’s office can prevent this from happening so that your portion of the property passes on to whom you intend. This may be to provide for your children, your siblings or even your new common law partner.

Along with preparing or revising an existing will, upon separation, one must ensure they update their insurance policies, registered plans, and any pensions. Further, unless you want your separated spouse to be able to make your property and personal care decisions, you must attend to preparation of your power of attorney documents as well.

Since separation can drag on for some time, individuals need to ensure they take a close look at their assets and related estate documents to avoid unintended consequences.

The above serves as general information only and is not to be relied on as legal advice. Please contact your lawyer for your specific circumstances.