Every year the Canadian Bar Association - Ontario and The Law Society of Upper Canada co-present "Make A Will Month" TM. The purpose is to build consumer awareness and an education campaign that focussed on helping people understand the necessity of making a will. The goals are:
1. To encourage the public to make a will;
2. To educate the public about the benefits of a lawyer-prepared will;
3. To provide an opportunity for lawyers to educate the public about the importance of making a will.
Many people do not understand the ramifications of not having a will and the importance of having a lawyer-prepared will. Using a lawyer can help you avoid family quarrels or extra taxes. A lawyer has the knowledge and expertise to protect your interests, and provide support and guidance through what can be a very stressful or confusing experience.
Basically when you make a will you decide who is to get what you have - your spouse, children, relatives, friends or charitable organizations. You need to name an executor or estate trustee to carry out the instructions in your will. You should also name someone - a guardian - to look after your infant children if you and your spouse both die. The remainder of the will is made up of instructions and how the provisions in your will are to be carried out.
Before you meet with a lawyer you should think about who will get your possessions, who will administer your estate ( the executor), who will be the guardians of your infant children - or who will back up the executor or guardians if they either die before you or are unable to act.
You should also prepare a list of what you have (assets) and what you owe (debts). Your assets may include your house, pension, Registered Retirement Savings Plan, insurance, investments or an interest in or shares in a business. Your debts may include a mortgage on your home, or personal loans.
Although there are a number of do-it-yourself will kits on the market, they can't possibly cover all circumstances and ensure that your assets end up in the hands of those who you intended to benefit. If for some reason your will is found to be invalid, a court will appoint someone to administer your will according to Provincial estate and family law. The do-it yourself kit also can't help you lower your estate's probate fees. A lawyer prepared will can!
When you see your lawyer, ask about the costs to prepare a will, or if you have an existing will - the cost to review it or make changes. You should also ask about a power of attorney for property or personal care. Even if you have an existing will, your circumstances may have changed and your will should be changed. For example, a marriage invalidates your will.
The education campaign has been paying off. I am noticing a much greater awareness by my clients of the need to make a will.
Next month I will discuss in greater detail the role of an executor or estate trustee and some points to consider when deciding who to select for this crucial position.