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Garton & Harris Wills and Estates Blog

Life events that mean it's time to take another look at wills

Most people understand the need to prepare legal documents to share end-of-life decisions, and to prepare for the distribution of their wealth after that. But, preparing a will is only the first step. British Columbia individuals and families should also take a look at wills and other plans to reaffirm details and make critical changes at key points in life.

Moments where a family structure changes are almost always good times to take a look at estate plans. For example, when a child is born, parents should designate guardianship. Upon marriage or divorce, confirming or creating stipulations around transfer of wealth to a spouse is important. Ideally, planners will do this in advance, even when just considering a divorce or marriage, to ensure every option remains available and paperwork can be completed.

How to prepare if you want to sell your business

Business owners across British Columbia are facing challenges with their business. Some are ready to close that chapter, while others are eager to start a new one. Whatever reason you may have for selling a business, you must plan accordingly.

Like any complicated transaction, selling a business takes considerable preparation. In some cases, business owners start planning years before they actually decide to sell. As such, the sooner you complete the following steps, the better.

What are an executor's first steps in estate administration?

When people agree to take on an executorship, they are often aware of the overarching responsibility to administer a will. But, many are not as clear on where to start, or what the step-by-step process is when it comes to estate administration. Here are some of the first things British Columbia executors should do when the estate owner passes away.

The first thing an executor should do is to review the will to carefully review the testator's intentions. Testators can better prepare their executors by providing a letter that explains the reasoning and intentions behind their estate planning decisions, especially if they might be called into question. However, the most important document to have prepared is a clearly defined will.

Common items people forget when drafting their wills

There are many obvious items to consider when estate planning, such as the fate of the family home or the guardianship of children. But, some of the most important things may not be as obvious. British Columbia planners should consider these commonly forgotten items when drafting their wills.

While guardianship of minor children is rarely forgotten by planners, pets can sometimes fall off the radar. Pet owners should not only consider who should care for pets, but also how that care will be funded. Food, vet bills and care items can cost a fair amount, especially if the animal has health conditions or prefers luxury brands of food. Higher-maintenance animals, such as horses, may require additional planning as well.

The importance of revisiting wills when you remarry

When marriages end, chances are that one or both parties will move on to other partners. Statistically, two-thirds of divorcees between 55 and 64 told Pew Research they had remarried in a 2013 study. British Columbia individuals giving marriage another shot have several financial considerations to keep in mind, especially those who have accumulated wealth in between their marriages. One of the main things to consider is the details within wills.

Prior to a new marriage, it is helpful for each party to take a fully inventory of assets. Many might think this documentation only matters for couples who eventually split, but there are other reasons it is important. Documenting assets is a critical part of estate planning, and can help individuals clarify if certain items should be left to family members besides the new spouse. For example, an heirloom may be best suited to a child; this will need to be explicitly stated in a will or a spouse may get everything by default.

Should funeral plans be considered when preparing wills?

Thorough, informed and legally sound plans for the future can make it far easier for families to move forward when a loved one passes away. Preparing wills, compiling essential information and sharing end-of-life wishes may seem morbid, but British Columbia families who take these steps can reduce a lot of stress when the time comes. Funeral plans can be helpful to include in this process, especially if there are particular wishes loved ones should consider.

Planning a funeral without advanced planning can be an emotional and financial burden. It is often an issue people either avoid or do not think about, as it seems morbid and uncomfortable. However, recent cultural shifts and increased availability of services and information have made advance planning such as this more common among Canadians.

Dealing with estate administration without a written will

There are many steps involved in managing a person's assets, liabilities and affairs after they pass away. When no formal estate plan or will is left, this can make the estate administration process more complex. In British Columbia, the term for passing away without a valid will is dying "intestate." Fortunately, there are legal options available when this happens.

In British Columbia, the Wills Estates and Succession Act directs what should happen when someone dies intestate. Next steps depend first on living heirs, including a spouse and/or children. If a person has a spouse with no children, the process may be relatively straightforward as this spouse inherits everything.

Understanding special, limited and durable power of attorney

Most individuals recognize the importance of naming someone to handle matters on their behalf should they be unable to do so themselves. But does a power of attorney really need to be a single person given permission to access all financial management decisions? For British Columbia families or individuals looking to have another person take on individual tasks, a special power of attorney may be useful to explore.

A special power of attorney (POA) is an individual who is able to handle a particular issue or issues on another person's behalf. This differs from a general power of attorney, a designation which authorizes someone to make a wide range of decisions when a person is unable to do so. For example, one might name a spouse as a special POA in order to authorize him or her to sign documents in his or her partner's absence. This would be considered a one-time special POA.

The difference between a power of attorney and an executor

Many people are aware that they need to name certain individuals to care for themselves and their property should they become incapacitated or pass away. What they may not quite understand is that these two scenarios actually require different types of planning and the naming of distinct types of caretakers. Knowing the difference between a power of attorney and and executor is critical for British Columbia families seeking to plan for the future.

Power of attorney gives an individual or individuals the right to act on a person's behalf if that individual is unable to do so. People often will name one power of attorney for health and care, and another for finances. These jobs can both be done by the same person, or in some cases, co-powers of attorney are named as a check and balance for important decisions.

Tips for those who resolved to get their wills in order this year

Getting finances in order is a common New Year's resolution. For British Columbia individuals and families who have resolved to consider their affairs and plan for the future in 2020, wills and estate plans are an important consideration. While it can be hard to discuss death, incapacity or the potential that tragedy may strike the family, taking things step by step can help ease the challenges of this important task.

An important first step to getting affairs in order is to simply make an appointment with an estate planning lawyer. Meetings with one's bank or financial advisor are also a good idea in this process. Speaking with professionals about options and processes can make things seem much less overwhelming at every stage in the planning process. It is also very important to have a legal advisor on hand to make sure the drafted will is legitimate.

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