Here’s a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution that will benefit both you and your family and will be relatively simple to complete:  make or update your estate plan this year.

Many people look for any reason to procrastinate about this stressful subject. And it always feels painful to spend money on estate planning, because you don’t live to reap the benefits, even if you know your heirs will. Still, it’s important to move forward. Vast sums of money may be lost through missed estate planning opportunities and family battles over documents that had not been updated.  Once an estate plan is completed, clients feel great peace and satisfaction knowing that they have done their best to make things easier on their loved ones for when that time comes.

Estate planning starts with a fundamental goal: Once you have provided for your own needs, take care of those you love. That’s true whether you have a lot of money or a little. To get started on the process, list and compile documents relating to your assets, insurance policies, properties, and valuable personal items.  Gather account and policy numbers.  Then talk with a lawyer, accountant and financial planner about your needs.

A Will is the best way to ensure that the people, charities and organizations you cherish most receive the benefit of your estate. Your Will is also your last communication with your family and friends and your opportunity to leave clear instructions on how you want your assets to be handled, and how you want your legacy and final wishes to be carried out.  Without a Will, the Courts decide who gets what, without regard to your wishes or your heirs’ needs and your estate may not be distributed in the way you would have wished.  Having a Will is also important to avoid the higher costs, avoidable delays and even potential squabbling among family members as to who gets which parts of the estate.

If you don’t have a Will, you’re not alone. According to a 2010 report for BC Notaries, just 49 per cent of British Columbians have a signed, legally valid and up-to-date Will.

Making a Will is especially important for people with young children, because Wills are the best way to transfer guardianship of minors and to provide instructions on their care, as well as how and when the parents want the children to receive their inheritance.

As each person has a unique family and asset picture, their Wills should be specifically drafted for their needs.   Beware of “one size fits all” Will tools, which fail to address the unique family profile of each client. The resulting Will may not meet your estate planning needs or may not accurately reflect your wishes. Notaries provide Will services and may be a good option for individuals who require a very simple Will.  However, it must be understood that Notaries are unable to provide the same depth of legal knowledge and advice that a lawyer can provide for more complex situations.

A solid Will and Estate plan is a good investment. The cost to have a Will written depends on the complexity of your situation.  In the event that a dispute arises with respect to the validity of your Will or your estate, litigation costs in BC Supreme Court often exceed $50,000.  So it is prudent to ensure you invest in and receive quality advice at the time you make your Will to avoid much more significant costs later.

It is also important to remember that once you make a Will, it is important to review it regularly to make sure it reflects your changing wishes and life circumstances.

In addition to a Will most people also need additional key planning documents that consider your legal, financial and health decisions while you are still alive.  These include a Power of Attorney, and a Representation Agreement and/or an Advance Health Care Directive.  These are documents that name another person to have authority to make financial, legal, personal care and/or health care related decisions for you when you are unable to do so.

The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer.  If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.

The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.

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