Mikestrathdee’s Blog

Write a will now – for your family’s sake
January 21, 2011, 9:57 pm
Filed under: Communication, Estate Planning, Financial Management, Marriage, retirement

published in Christian Week Ontario November 2009

If you die tomorrow, would you leave behind a headache for your family?

Nearly half of Canadians have never made a will. Many more have never completed other documents that could save their family a lot of grief in the event of a tragedy. Only 21 per cent of Canadians under 35 have made wills, according to a national study conducted for FLA Group.

Young families may think estate planning can wait. But failing to name guardians for your minor children means that if both parents die, a judge could award custody to the family members you would least want your children to live with. Having the main breadwinner die without a will in place will lead to headaches, and likely financial hardship, for the survivor.

In Ontario, the estate of a person who dies without a will, leaving a spouse and one child, the first $200,000 goes to the spouse. Any balance will be divided equally between the spouse and child.  As minors can’t inherit, the child’s share will be held in trust until the child is 18. If the deceased leaves a spouse and more than one child, any balance (over $200,000) would be one-third to the spouse and two-thirds (in trust) to the children.

Even at age 18, many young people are not mature enough to make good choices about an inheritance. If you don’t make a will, your children receive their entire inheritance at 18.

My most vivid memory of a decade spent doing estate planning seminars and personal counselling involves a Sunday afternoon session in a small town’s biggest church. After I questioned the wisdom of letting children inherit at age 18, a young woman jumped up and said: “I agree with you completely. That’s a bad idea.”

Later on, she told me a sad story. When her father died, she and her brother were each left $60,000, payable at age 18.  Her brother wrecked vehicles, ran up debts and left a string of unpaid bills in the two years it took to deplete his share. She did a little better, but was determined not to repeat the mistake with her own children.

You should also prepare for the bad things that can incapacitate us without killing us. If you aren’t able to conduct your financial affairs and have never had a continuing power of attorney for property prepared, “a potential nightmare awaits the family,” Fish and Kotzer suggest in their book The Family Fight – Planning to Avoid it.

A Cambridge couple lived that nightmare earlier this decade. When the husband suffered a stroke, his wife found herself unable to complete the sale of the family home, yet needing that money for a condo they had purchased. His share of the home sale was held for a time by the Public Guardian and Trustee. It cost her a lot of grief and money to get the situation resolved.

Do your loved ones a favour –have a will and powers of attorney drafted ASAP.


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