As the legend goes, Fred Baur, the founder of Pringles, left a will requesting that he be cremated, and his ashes buried in a Pringles tube.
A will is your voice after you are no longer here but, if you are like half of Canadians, you don’t have one. It is probably a case of “getting around to it someday.” You have been busy working hard to cover month-to-month expenses and even accumulate a little extra for the future. But, what if that future never comes? Like all aspects of financial planning, it may seem difficult to address in the present, but having a will can make things much easier in the future.
If you die without a will or “intestate,” your assets will be dispersed according to certain legal specifications. For example, according to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, if there is no will, the share for a spouse with children is deemed to be $300,000 plus half of the remainder of the estate. Children of the marriage would share the remainder evenly. There is a smaller spousal share, $150,000 plus half of the remainder, where all the children of the deceased are not also the children of the spouse. There is a good chance that these standard specifications do not line up exactly with what you would wish.
Like me, you have likely seen firsthand the unpleasant situations that can arise for grieving family members when they are trying to cope with the dispersal of an estate following the death of a loved one. In the modern world of multiple marriages and stepfamilies, the lack of a will is sure to compound problems.
Your minor children, in particular, are vulnerable if no will exists and you have not designated guardians or trustees on their behalf. With a will in place, in the event of a common accident where both spouses die, the guardian or guardians would be your choice rather than the choice of the courts. A trustee of funds for the maintenance and education of the minors would be named in the will as well. Talking to the people you are proposing for these roles and getting their approval is an important part of the will planning process.
In your will, you will appoint an executor or executors. An executor oversees, among other responsibilities, the payment for your funeral expenses, the payment of any outstanding debts and, finally, the distribution of your remaining assets according to your wishes. It may help your executor and spare you the cost and inconvenience of redoing your will if your bequests are made in the form of percentages. The value of your estate may fluctuate and percentages can help keep your will reflective of your original intentions. For example, rather than leaving a favourite cause a set dollar amount, you may choose to leave the charity two per cent of your overall estate.
Getting your will all set up may run between $300 to $1,200 depending on the complexity of your situation and whether you use a notary or a lawyer. As with all aspects and steps in the financial planning process, it is wise to review regularly and update when necessary to make sure your goals and priorities are appropriately addressed.
Once your document is complete, congratulate yourself with a light snack. Chips anyone?
Rock Hutsul is the Hope Standard’s finance columnist, giving you rock solid advice for a sound financial present and future. Reach him at email@example.com.