Wills. Powers of Attorney. Representation Agreements. Estate Planning.
I don't think that there are any words that send people running in the opposite direction faster. What's the big deal? You know you're supposed to have them.
It's OK to admit if you don't have all of your papers ready today. The idea of dying is scary and it seems so much easier to avoid it all than to try and get a good understanding of what the terms mean and follow through.
Here, courtesy of Mountain Law Corporation lawyer Peter Shrimpton, is the nitty-gritty on these legal terms:
A will is a document that says to whom you want to give your money and assets when you die. This includes real estate and personal effects. It is estimated that only a third of adult Canadians today have wills.
Intestate means that you passed away without a will. Often a friend or relative, hopefully someone you approve of, steps forward and applies to be the administrator of your estate. If no one applies as administrator then the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia will step in.
Yes, you can do a DIY (do it yourself) will, but there are good reasons to use a notary or lawyer. Often their service includes complimentary estate planning, a process that lets you consider the “what happens if” scenarios for choosing the right documents during your life and death.
A lawyer or notary will consider your circumstances — such as marital status, children and their ages and your assets — and will be a sounding board. Often, Peter added, setting up an estate plan means the costs, delays and troubles of not having a will can be minimized.
Your lawyer or notary will help you set up powers of attorney, a reasonably inexpensive document that says who can handle your money and/or legal matters and when the document becomes active. You might want to set it up so your spouse can handle the financial and legal matters throughout your marriage or perhaps only when you are unable to physically or mentally handle these tasks.
Next is deciding who will help you manage your affairs or make decisions on your behalf should illness, injury or disability occur. This document is called a representation agreement, and it can be just as important as the powers of attorney. The goal is to feel really confident that your representative knows you and your wishes.
But estate planning doesn't end there. It goes on to consider how to help clients sort their shared assets, including savings plans like RRSPs and RRIFs.
Effective March 31, 2014, Shrimpton said, the new BC Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) law will allow the courts much greater flexibility in ensuring a deceased's last wishes are followed. It will much more clearly set out the inheritance process if there is no will.
For example, estates under $50,000 will be closed more quickly. The definition of spouse has been updated and recipients of gifts will need to show that they did not exert undue influence on the deceased about the gift.
OK, these legal terms aren't quite so foreign now, but there are a lot of factors to consider. I'm guessing that you want to do it right.
Don't rely on the Internet or any article for legal advice. Assume your situation is more complicated than it seems and contact a local notary or lawyer. Figure out how to create a plan that really satisfies you and your loved ones.
For more details on changes to the BC WESA laws visit www.mountainlaw.com.
Maria Schwarz (MA, BScN) is a freelance writer with a focus on senior issues and aging well. This is her last submission to Silver Linings.