It's January 2017. A time to reflect on experiences from the previous year and set goals for the year ahead. For many people, the New Year means losing weight or saving money. For others, it's a time to re-evaluate relationships (as a recent article pointed out, internet searches for "divorce" jump 50 per cent from December through January).
But there's another thing that happens in January: death rates tend to be higher than at any other time of the year. There are many speculations for the rise including winter illnesses, increased depression rates, and pushing off serious health concerns until after the holidays.
As a qualified trust and estate practitioner, I often receive an increased number of calls in January from people who are either updating their Wills as part of their New Year's plans, or unfortunately, experienced the loss of a friend or family member.
My job is to provide proper support and counsel to manage clients throughout this particularly stressful period and ensure that their loved one's wishes are being carried out as they intended.
However, more than half of Canadian adults (56 per cent) do not have a signed Will. This means that there is no official document in place to determine the disposition of assets and ultimately how the deceased wants to carry out their legacy. For example, without a Will, you are unable to appoint an executor, exclude or include beneficiaries, or carry out burial or cremation preferences. There may also be serious tax consequences and increased legal fees.
At the same time, not having a Will in place can lead to increased tension and disagreements as family members often have different opinions about what to do with a loved one's estate.
For the remaining adult Canadians who do have Wills, the contents are often not communicated. A new study reveals that one in three people will be unprepared to be an executor, as they are completely unaware that they've been chosen as an executor of the Will or have no idea what their parents' estate plans are.
These scenarios are all too common, but entirely avoidable.
As you set out your New Year's resolutions this January, make estate planning a priority. This includes two principal steps:
- Develop or review your Will to ensure that it is up to date. Your Will should include information on the assets that need to be distributed upon passing away, the beneficiaries of those assets and who you appoint as your trustee to administer your estate and any trusts or foundations you've created as part of your Will.
- Sit down with your loved ones to communicate the contents of your Will, ensuring they understand the components and what it means for them.
By putting estate planning on your must do list for January, you will not only have critical documents in place that articulate your wishes, but also provide much needed comfort to you and your loved ones in 2017.
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Discussing personal finances is often considered a taboo, but many barriers can be knocked down if you approach the conversation openly, lay out your goals, and check them off.
Or any other crisis -- to talk to your parents about their estate plans. If you feel disingenuous using some ice-breaking strategy then just be upfront about acknowledging how uncomfortable the topic makes you feel. That in itself is an ice breaker.
Ensure your parents feel loved and in control of the situation. Don't forget the discussion is about them and how they want you to fit in. Listen to their ideas to get a strong understanding of what they want. If you have suggestions then offer them, but don't expect that they'll immediately accept them, if at all. It's about people skills and open communication. If you know that will be a hurdle from the start, then perhaps a visit to a third party such as an estate lawyer or financial planner can help take the edge off.
Assets, wills, and how your parents want to share their legacy; be prepared with specific questions about all those topics. Beyond that, you'll need to talk to your parents about plans about their income, retirement investment plans, and health care. Some professionals suggest commonly cited questions including: should your parents have a living will? Does the Power of Attorney cover off what your parents want addressed? Does your parents' will and estate plan clearly lay out the transfer process to beneficiaries or deal with tax issues?
After figuring out exactly what your parents want in their estate plan there must be clear guidance on where those plans will be kept. Experts in the industry stress the importance of knowing where to easily find phone numbers and contact names, details, and documents including wills, investments, and personal information such as birth certificates.