What will your legacy be after you die?
When you work with an estate planning lawyer, you don’t have to guess. You’ll know, because your wishes will be laid out clearly and concisely for the courts to follow after your death. You’ll be able to distribute your assets any way you wish. In some cases you may even be able to pass assets directly to the people who matter to you the most.
Proper estate planning gives you the tools you need to protect your assets and your interests after your death. Reach out to the award-winning lawyers at Merchant Law to help you get your affairs in order. You’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your estate will pass smoothly to your heirs after your death.
Who needs an estate plan?
Anyone who has significant assets should invest in an estate plan, especially if their lives have acquired significant complications.
Complications can include multiple marriages, business ownership, income-bearing intellectual property ownership, and more. You should also think about investing in an estate plan if there are family members or friends who you would like to support that aren’t in your immediate family.
People who have a desire to leave part of their assets to charity will also need an estate plan.
Estate plans can ensure the survival of your business, secure long-term support for your children or spouse, can protect vulnerable individuals in your family, and can help you pass assets to your family quickly without having to refer back to the will, but only if it’s been set up correctly.
Think carefully before you assume your estate is too simple to require a formal estate plan. Most people’s lives hold at least a little bit of complexity, and most people will be served by making use of a formal will and estate plan.
What happens if you die without a will in Alberta?
Dying without a will is known as dying intestate. This means that the courts will distribute your assets according to the Wills and Succession Act of Alberta.
When you die intestate the courts default to a simplified formula for distributing your assets. If you have a spouse or adult interdependent partner with children in common then the entire estate goes to your estate.
If you have a spouse but have natural-born or adopted children from a previous marriage then your spouse will get ½ of the estate and your children will share the other half.
If neither spouse nor children exist then the courts will begin looking for other next-of-kin, starting with grandchildren, parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. If none of these individuals can be found the court will turn to more distant next-of-kin. If that’s not possible, the estate may eventually pass to the province of Alberta.
As the default is rarely the ideal scenario for most Alberta residents, it’s usually wise to go ahead and get a will in place.
What should you bring to your estate planning appointment?
You should bring all of the information it takes to give your lawyer a full and complete understanding of your assets and debts. This includes all bank statements, tax returns, stock and bond certificates, titles, and real estate deeds. It may also include business documents such as agreements and profit and loss statements, as well as licensing or royalty agreements for intellectual property.
In addition, you’ll need to discuss certain future roles with people in your life. If you have minor children you’ll need to name a guardian in the event that neither you nor your spouse can be there for them. You will need to obtain permission from this person to name them, and you’ll need to provide your lawyer with that person’s contact information.
You can name your lawyer as your executor, or you can name someone else that you trust. Either way you will also need to obtain that person’s contact information and permission to proceed.
Finally you’ll need to bring contact information for all of your beneficiaries, as well as identifying information which can help locate them if the contact information goes out of date.
Note: you should be updating your estate plan every three to five years, just to ensure that your plan continues to reflect your financial reality. This will give you opportunities to update beneficiary contact information, and to change beneficiaries if necessary. You will also want to review your will whenever you go through a major life event such as a death in the immediate family, a marriage, or a divorce.
Being thorough will ensure that nothing is left to chance.
What is probate, and how does it work?
Probate is the process of validating your will through the courts. The courts ensure the will is legal and genuine, and that no later versions of the will exist. Probate also gives certain individuals the ability to challenge the will under very specific circumstances.
It is possible to pass some assets to heirs without forcing them to go through probate. This can be done through joint ownership agreements or through trusts. If you have a life insurance policy these benefits also will not be probated.
Avoiding probate isn’t always desirable. In many case probate protects you and your wishes. Alberta’s probate fees are very low and will be taken out of the estate. What you want to avoid is dying intestate, since intestacy creates additional headaches and hassles for your family while robbing you of the ability to create a functional estate that accomplishes everything you might want it to accomplish.
How much does a will cost, and how long does it take to make one?
A will is a relatively small investment. Most of the estate plans we put together cost between $300 and $3000. The expense depends primarily on the complexity of your estate and your overall estate planning goals.
It also doesn’t take very long to write a will. Even a complex estate plan can be put into place in less than a week.
Schedule a few hours for an appointment. If you come fully prepared, with all the documents a lawyer will need to understand your situation, then making an estate plan should ultimately be a convenient, stress-free process, especially when you work with one of our experienced, caring lawyers.
What’s the difference between a will and an estate plan?
A will is one component of an estate plan. For some it will be the only component required. Others may wish to look to more complex or sophisticated estate planning vehicles to supplement their will.
The will is the cornerstone of most estate plans as it clearly communicates the decedent’s wishes to the courts.
The rest of your estate planning should be built around your will. For example you wouldn’t want to enter into a joint ownership arrangement with one person and then leave that piece of property to someone else in your will, because this will create a conflict the courts must resolve.
Your lawyer can help you spot and smooth out any potential conflicts. That’s yet another benefit of working with a lawyer to generate your entire estate plan.
How do trusts work in Alberta?
Trusts hold property that is then controlled by a trustee. Any kind of property may be placed into a trust, though bank accounts and real estate are the most common types. Each trust receives a trustee who is responsible for distributing funds or managing the trust in accordance with the trust-maker’s wishes.
Trusts are useful for a variety of reasons. First, you can’t create conditional gifts in a valid Alberta will, but you can place conditions on how trusts are used. For example, you can open a large bank account, put it in a trust, and stipulate that the money be used only for a child’s education or only for living expenses.
Second, if you create a living trust the trust passes outside the estate and doesn’t enter probate. It just goes straight to your named beneficiary. You can also create a testamentary trust that needs to be probated with the rest of the will, depending on the goals and needs of your estate.
The laws governing trusts are quite complex, and it’s wise to have a lawyer help advise you on how to set yours up. We are happy to help you take advantage of this powerful estate planning vehicle.
Who can challenge a will in Alberta?
Challenges may only be made by specific people and in a very limited set of circumstances. Your spouse or interdependent partner can challenge a will, as can your adult children. Anyone else who has a financial interest in the estate because they’ve been named as a beneficiary in your will may also opt to challenge it. The Public Trustee may also make challenges in some cases.
The most common reason for a challenge is when a will leaves a dependent spouse or child without sufficient resources to support themselves because it has given those resources to someone else. In this case the judge may adjust the will.
Another common reason for a challenge is that the will is not legally valid, or that the most recent version of the will is suspect. A version of a will can be suspect because you were not of sound mind and body to make the changes, or it can be suspect because someone has reason to believe that you were the victim of fraud, intimidation, or duress. It’s also possible to challenge a will if it’s worded vaguely or contains instructions which are impossible to carry out.
Working with a lawyer can help you protect your will from challenges. While there are no guarantees, legal help does provide safeguards.
A successful challenge does not mean that the person who challenged the will gets everything they ask for. In many cases the courts will revert to an earlier version of your will if one exists. In some cases the courts may adjust the provisions of your will to allow for the care of a dependent. When the will is invalidated and no prior version exists, however, the courts will treat your estate as though you had died intestate, placing you right back at square one.
The need to protect your estate is one major reason why it is rarely a good idea to attempt estate planning on your own.
Why choose a Merchant Law lawyer?
For over 30 years, the lawyers at Merchant Law have been Calgary’s choice for full-service legal needs. Our experienced team has helped many individuals plan their estates, while providing a depth of helpful expertise in other areas of the law such as real estate law, business law, and civil litigation.
Our lawyers are caring, responsive, and easy to work with. Make an appointment today by calling (403) 237-7777. Don’t put off estate planning for another minute. The people you care about most are depending on you to get your affairs in order, and to do the job the right way.
We have offices in Airdrie, Calgary Bowness, Calgary, Cochrane, Red Deer, and Edmonton, but we serve the entire province. We even offer remote appointments! If you live in Alberta, don’t hesitate to reach out. We can help. Call today to get started.