Wills: Understanding the basics.
No one wants to think about dying. Sadly, we are all going to be faced with the passing of a loved one either by a critical illness, natural cause, or a sudden death at some point in our life. Preparing your will in advance is one way to alleviate some of the stress for your surviving family members. A will is a legal document that instructs the courts how you wish your estate to be divided, and who you elect as your children’s guardian in the event of your death. Surprisingly, only 55% of people have a will. Most people think that creating a will is expensive, complicated, time consuming, confusing, and a stressful process. It does not need to be that way. Here are a few things you should know about wills and why they are important.
What happens if you die without a will?
If you die without a will your assets will be divided according to the B.C Law. The province will appoint a government official, called a Public Guardian or Trustee, who will oversee the sale and division of your property and closure of your estate. Without a will, if you have dependents, you forfeit the right to choose who will look after your children and how they are raised. All the costs of the government appointee administering your estate will be taken from your assets. If someone wants to assume the role of administrator of the estate, they must apply for a grant of administrator role. The paperwork for this application is extensive and can create lengthy delays and costs. If you want someone to make sure that your family is taken care of it is important to have a legal will created prior to your passing.
What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process following a person’s death that determines if your last will and testament is legal. The execution of your will can occur after probate. If you have taken care of your affairs with the proper legal consultation this process is short and simple. Without the proper legal paperwork probate can be contentious, expensive, and time consuming.
What is an executor of a will?
An executor of your will is the person you appoint to take care of your final details on your behalf. Identify your executor by their full legal name in your will. An executor is responsible for dividing your property, and taking care of all the final paperwork including:
- Taking inventory and assessing a value to all your assets and debts
- Collecting names and addresses to all beneficiaries and immediate family members
- Notifying banks, credit cards, Canada Post, and any subscriptions
- Transfer ownership of all assets, registered properties, and debt collections
- Paying all legal, and valid outstanding debts from the estate
- File taxes for the deceased and the estate
- Selling assets from the estate and distributing the funds appropriately
- Making sure that the beneficiaries of the sale of the assets are informed, and they all agree to the course of action to be taken with the property sale, and disbursements or distribution of the estate.
Choosing the right person to be the executor of a will is extremely important. They need to be someone you trust to follow through on your intentions, good with paperwork, organized, and have the time necessary to complete the process. You should have a conversation with this person before you create your will and clearly explain your intentions. The role of executor is a tremendous responsibility. It is important to note that an executor of a will is different from a power of attorney. A power of attorney is someone you trust to act on your behalf regarding all your financial and legal needs while you are still alive. A power of attorney ceases at the time of your death. Your power of attorney and executor can be the same person but require different legal authority.
Who needs a will?
You should have a will as soon as you begin to acquire assets. Wills are especially important when you marry and have children. Legal wills require that you must be at least 16 years of age and of sound mind. You must also understand what the legal document entails. Everyone who has a claim to your property, or who you want specific things to go to, must be mentioned, by full name, in your will.
There are will kits available for sale that can walk you through the basics but it is always best to consult with a lawyer to make sure that there are no mistakes in the wording, contain oversites, or problems with legality of the document. Errors can delay the probate process, and create costly, lengthy complications for your surviving family members especially if your family is large, involve minors, and include extensive assets.
How long will it take to make a will and what will it cost?
How long it takes to make a will, and the cost of creating the document depends on the complexity of your estate including:
- Your family structure such as blended families
- Business ownership
- Property held outside of the province
- Specific details regarding care of children
- Trust accounts
- Charitable donations
- Other more detailed wishes such as division of family heirlooms
The Province of British Columbia has a site that explains in greater detail the complexities of wills and estates. It can be found at Province of BC Will Info.
The lawyers at Wishart Brain & Spine Law are here to make this process affordable, understandable, and EASY for everyone involved. Contact Michelle Sagert or Robyn Wishart of Wishart Brain & Spine Law for answers to your questions about how to best plan for your family’s future, and make sure that your final wishes are executed as intended. Peace of Mind is everything. Contact us today