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Garton & Harris Wills and Estates Blog

Wills still need to be hand signed in British Columbia

The 21st century is no doubt the technological age. Many legal documents are actually executed online using an electronic signature. But when it comes to wills, it's not that easy for British Columbia residents. Actually, all Canadians can electronically sign invoices, quotes, proposals, contracts and many other kinds of documents. Wills, however, are another story. 

E-signatures are governed by both federal and provincial laws. All provinces and territories, along with the federal government say wills, along with some other documents like those pertaining to family law, must be in hard copy form and signed by hand. Only when they are signed as such do the courts consider them to be legal.

The need for wills even when accounts have beneficiaries

People who have worked hard all their lives and have several accounts with sizable assets -- like life insurance policies or retirement savings plans -- still need to plan their estates. British Columbia residents who have beneficiaries attached to these assets still need to write wills to streamline the process of disseminating specified assets when the time comes. Assets are frozen upon the death of their owner.

A will is necessary since it allows an executor to do many of the things required by law when a person passes away. A will gives the executor the right to file and sign a final tax return, liaise with creditors and basically take care of anything associated with the deceased person's estate. Many people don't realize that if a spouse is not the executor, he or she can't automatically take on that role. So, those who die intestate (or without a will) may leave a lot of messy loose ends for their loved ones.

Online wills may be estate planning mistakes in British Columbia

It's important to plan for the inevitable. Estate planning should be a part of every adult British Columbia resident's life, but for many people writing wills is the last thing on their radar. When they do think of it, they might resort to doing it the best way they believe is possible. Some turn to online forms, but they may be sorely misguided.

Online will forms, according to most experts, are not reliable and as such actually come with disclaimers. The average person wouldn't know if these forms contained mistakes or included things that weren't legal. Wills are meant to be unique -- reflective of personal situations, not one size fits all. 

Power of attorney essential for those with dementia

When a person receives the diagnosis of dementia, his or her world changes. There are so many things to consider, especially when the diagnosis is made early on. In British Columbia, it is important for people who have dementia to take action to protect themselves financially and that includes having a power of attorney in place in estate plans. 

There are safeguards that can be put into place such as having daily limits set on bank and credit card accounts in case the person forgets how much he or she has spent. The capacity to make financial decisions wanes with certain illnesses. It's important to ensure people are protected and one of the ways to do so is with a power of attorney.

Estate administration: Options for solo seniors

Unmarried seniors who have no children or extended family members may have an issue when it comes to their estates. If these British Columbia residents don't have family, who then will look after their estate administration when it's a job usually relegated to adult children or some other family member? Naming a corporate executor is a viable option in these cases.

Such an individual can do the same things as a familial executor can do -- see to the repayment of debts, pay final taxes, look after property and even arrange the funeral. Some of the nation's bigger banking institutions might be able to help in this regard. But some provinces have limits as to how much these individuals can be paid -- usually 4 to 5 per cent of the estate's value.

Power of attorney and the abuse of the British Columbia elderly

The elderly are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. It is especially devastating when the individuals who are taking advantage of seniors are the very people seniors most trust. A power of attorney is a very powerful document in British Columbia that grants a great amount of authority to an individual or individuals who are able to make decisions on behalf of the senior who gave them that power.

Anything that is done by an individual with power of attorney that is not in the best interests of the donor can be construed as being abuse. That could mean spending the donor's money frivolously or personally. It could mean forging the donor's signature on documents. But abuse can also take the form of coercion -- forcing someone to create a power of attorney against his or her wishes.

Badly written wills may leave hard feelings in the family

Planning a well-rounded, legally sound estate goes a long way to keeping the peace in the family. By the same token, estate plans in British Columbia with wills that are poorly written and unclear may cause family angst that need not have happened, especially when there is a lot of stake. The last thing anyone would want to have happen is a family pulled apart because of a will.

Sadly, it can and does happen, especially when there are a number of assets involved. But with appropriate legal planning and accounting, a will can be beneficial to all heirs and can maintain the peace. Having an updated, well-written will that will hold up legally is imperative as is communicating what is in that will. Leaving surprises might not bode well with loved ones.

Being an executor involves more than just distributing assets

If you agree to serve as the executor of someone's estate, it means taking on immense responsibility. If a friend or family member appointed you to this position in his or her will, it may be to your benefit to carefully consider whether you wish to take on this role now that the individual has passed away before taking any action that could legally obligate you to carry out an executor's duties.

Distributing property to the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased is just one of the duties you will undertake. Before making your decision to serve, you may want to know what duties the law here in British Columbia expects you to fulfill. Fortunately, you may enlist help in completing these tasks, but the ultimate responsibility falls to you.

Estate administation: The public guardian and trustee's role

Where there is a will, there is a way. And when the person named in a will to be the executor cannot take on the task of estate administration in British Columbia (nor can an intestate successor or beneficiary or any other person), the province may step in and appoint a public guardian and trustee (PGT) who may do so. This individual would follow the directives in the will.

When a person dies without a will, or intestate, a PGT may step in to administer the estate if there are no family members available. However, a PGT will only consider doing so when there is enough money in the estate to cover funeral costs and to pay for the PGT's services. Those services include anything an executor would have done such as make funeral arrangements, file a final tax return, paying off debts and distributing assets to beneficiaries.

Wills in British Columbia: Choosing the right guardian for kids

It's something parents never want to think about, yet must when doing what's best for their children. Choosing a guardian for minor children in the event of their deaths is a difficult, yet unconditionally loving thing British Columbia parents can do for their kids by way of their wills. Parents want their children to be raised by people they trust and love and who they believe will bring their children up in much the same way they would have done. 

Alarmingly, more than 55 per cent of Canadians don't have a will. It's even more alarming when those individuals have children. It may be because they are putting off choosing a guardian for their children. It's tough to think about, but would be even tougher on the children should their parents die intestate and without naming someone to care for them. The kids could become wards of the state and family members might have to fight for custody. 

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