Approximately 60% of British Columbians die each year without a will. This means that for those individuals, provincial legislation, and potentially the Public Guardian and Trustee, decides who is in charge of your assets, who gets what and who will take the responsibility of caring for your children. Dying without a will also means that your philanthropic intentions cannot be fulfilled.
Procrastination underlies this statistic – sometimes the decisions to be made in a will just seem too overwhelming. So here is a practical step-to-step guide to the major decisions you need to make to begin your will planning:
1. Who's in Charge? Someone must be appointed to look after your estate and to make decisions. This person is called your Executor/Executrix. They should be someone your age or younger that has either (or both) the smarts or the technical skills to deal with the decisions that are required. Sometimes this is someone in your life; sometimes your estate might be too complicated or your family relationships are too complicated for a friend or family member to comfortably manage – then you should look for a trust corporation.
2. Minor Children and Guardians. If you have children under the age of 19 then you must appoint a guardian for them in case both you and their other parent dies before they are of age. This is the single most important reason to have a will. No one can ever replace a parent, but both parents must come to a decision for the sake of your children. Too many will plans flounder on a disagreement between the parents over the appointment of a guardian – remember, this is very unlikely to ever occur – just choose the best possible person in your lives. Remember also that a will can always be revised as your circumstances, and your children's circumstances, change.
3. Don't Worry about Your Stuff. Many individuals get bogged down thinking they need to provide a comprehensive list of who is to receive their personal and household articles. You don't! Often the best solution is to simply include a choosing mechanism in your will – pick an order, or have your beneficiaries cut cards to decide an order, and then let them choose. It's fair, limits arguments and ensures that someone doesn't get saddled with a piano they don't want!
4. Who Gets What? If you're married or common law it's usually pretty simple – everything goes to your spouse; when you're both gone, everything goes to your children, equally. There are tax disincentives and inheritance legislation disincentives that make departing from this standard form of distribution complicated – if your situation is more complicated, that is, you're in a second marriage, you have an estranged child or you or your spouse is a US citizen you need legal advice. An experienced legal advisor will easily be able to explain the best options for you.
5. Giving Back. During your life you have probably been the recipient of many community benefits, public health care being a significant one. Including a bequest or residue gift to a charity(ies) in your community should be part of everyone's estate plan. Not only does it fulfill your philanthropic legacy but it can be a practical way to limit taxes to your estate.
So - the bottom line? Dying without a will is always more complicated and expensive. Try to use these simple tips to break the logjam and get your will done. Remember to seek legal and/or financial advice from a professional to avoid headaches down the road. It doesn't have to be perfect – you can always change it in future – but it will always be better than the alternative!
To request our Guide to Giving booklet or learn more about BC Children's Hospital Foundation, please contact Cary Gaymond, Director of Philanthropy, Gift & Estate Planning at 604-875-2637 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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