Five Pitfalls to Avoid

The trouble with making a mistake with your will is that usually, once the problem is uncovered, your beneficiaries are the ones who have to deal with the consequences. The following is a list of five fairly common pitfalls to avoid.

Pitfall 1. Assuming Regulations are the Same Across Canada

The Civil Code applies in Quebec and common law applies in the rest of the country. Legislations regarding wills and dying without a will (intestate) fall under provincial legislation, so even in the rest of Canada, a mixed bag of regulations are in place. Know the rules where you reside.

Pitfall 2. Assuming Regulations Across Canada Never Change

Provincial legislation reforms are in various stages of completion. Once in place, new legislation may change the long-time status quo of many regulations, such as whether marriage voids a will. Talk to an estate-planning lawyer when updating your estate plan to ensure your documents reflect the current legislation in your province or territory.

Pitfall 3. Assuming You Don’t Need a Will

People assume they don’t need a will for one or more of the following reasons:

  • No assets (just starting their first job)
  • No spouse (their family members will inherit)
  • Spouse but no children (the spouse will get everything)
  • Won’t die (everyone eventually dies)

But I Don’t Own Anything!

Do you rent an apartment, have a cell phone contract or own a credit card? Upon death, how do they get cancelled? Who has authority to pay your bills? A will gives you the means to appoint an executor (usually a family member or a friend), who will be your estate’s legal representative responsible for winding up your life, your obligations and your estate. Even with no assets and no children, everyone should appoint a person to wind up their life.

Wills can appoint a legal guardian for minor children, if both parents die at once. A childless couple can ensure assets are fairly split, which may provide protection from disinheriting one person’s family.

Pitfall 4. Thinking a Will Is an Estate Plan

Too often, people think that if they have a will, they have an estate plan; however, a will is just the final document summarizing your plan. An estate plan determines who should act as executors and be appointed guardians, addresses tax implications for all assets, including those passing outside the estate (such as RRSPs, life insurance) and setting up trusts for minors.

Pitfall 5. What Happens to Rover?

If you have a beloved four-legged family member, make sure you’ve arranged for the animal’s care. Remember to name an appropriate guardian and don’t overlook the fact that pets can be expensive. Provide the funds to look after your pet, too.

Avoid the Pitfalls, Plan Your Will

Save yourself and your family from these pitfalls. Start planning your will today. Talk to a financial planner, lawyer or notary, or a trust company representative specializing in wills and estates. Get a legal document drawn up.