Have you taken the proper steps to protect your legacy when you die? Will your spouse, children, or other loved ones be taken care of when you’re no longer here to secure their financial future? With the help of a Merchant Law wills and estates lawyer, you won’t have to ask these questions. You’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have an air-tight estate plan that ensures your wishes are honored when you die. This planning is especially important if your asset profile is not simple. If you are a business owner, own intellectual property of any kind, have step-children, want to provide for anyone other than spouses, natural-born children, or adopted children, or want to give any portion of your money to charity then you need a lawyer’s help to protect your interests.
What happens if you die without a will in Kelowna?
If you die “intestate” in Kelowna, BC, then your assets will be distributed according to the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act. Though the law itself is complex, it lays out a fairly straightforward formula for the division of assets. Your spouse will get the first $300,000 if you have children in common. If you don’t have children in common your spouse will get the first $150,000. The balance of any remaining funds are then distributed evenly between your spouse and your children. “Your children” are defined as your natural-born or formally adopted children. If you have step-children you have not formally adopted they will not inherit anything. If the children are minors their money will be held for them in a government trust, to be distributed when they reach the age of 19. This means your spouse won’t be able to administer this money on their behalf, nor will any trustee you appoint. They’ll have to wait. No spouse? No children? Then your money will go first to your parents, then to your siblings, then to any nieces or nephews. If there are no qualifying relatives the money will ultimately go to the government. There are some exceptions. For example if you hold an asset jointly with another party then the asset will typically pass outside the estate and go straight to the co-owner. However, there are times a judge can demand a property be returned to the estate and redistributed according to the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act, so be careful. Protect your co-owner by putting a will into place. In addition to losing control of how your assets are distributed, dying without a will subjects your heirs to unnecessary fees and delays. This could cause them hardships that you don’t want them to face. Your heirs won’t be required to pay any inheritance taxes, but they will be required to pay probate fees.
Checklist for Preparation of a Will
There are certain documents you should gather before you go to your appointment with your estate planning lawyer. These documents will give your lawyer a full picture of your assets and liabilities. The complete picture will give your lawyer what they need to advise you on more complex issues. Gather the following:
- Bank statements for all bank accounts, investment accounts, and retirement accounts.
- Stock and bond certificates.
- Copies of your tax returns.
- Copies of real estate deeds.
- Appraisals on jewelry, art, coin collections, or antiques.
- Information on timeshares that you own.
- Titles for all cars, trucks, or boats.
- Copies of all of your bills, like your mortgage, your car loan, or any consumer debt you’re carrying.
- Profit and loss statements for your business, if you own one.
- Information about any intellectual property that you own.
You should also bring a list of your intended beneficiaries. So that it will be easy to contact them later, you’ll want to include their names, DoB, addresses, phone numbers, and social insurance numbers. If you have adopted or natural-born children you’ll want to bring copies of their birth certificates or adoption papers. Finally, if you are going to name a guardian for minor children you’ll need the full name, address, and phone number for that person as well. You’ll also be naming an executor for your will: make sure you bring that information as well. Do have a conversation with these people before assigning them these roles in your will, as the courts cannot force them to take over these duties. If they do not want to, the courts will have to find someone else, which may mean your children are raised, or your affairs are managed, by someone you would not have chosen. Keep in mind you should be reviewing your will every three to five years, and making adjustments in the face of major life events like marriages, divorces, separations, or deaths in the family. Estate planning is not a one-time event, but a serious legal and financial matter that must be attended to on a regular basis.
Do you need a lawyer for the preparation of a will?
Theoretically it is possible to make a valid will without a lawyer. You just need to put your will into writing, sign it, and have two witnesses sign the will who saw you sign said will. You have to be old enough to make a will (16) and the witnesses have to be old enough to sign it (19). Yet this does not necessarily create a will that’s immune to challenge, or which does an adequate job of protecting your entire estate. A lawyer ensures that your will actually helps you enact your wishes. Lawyers also ensure that your will is less open to challenge. Remember, if someone successfully challenges your will it’s basically as though you never wrote a will in the first place.
How long does it take to plan an estate?
If you are fully prepared for the appointment when you arrive at our offices we can get it done in up to one week. Much will depend on whether you need a simple will or whether you need to set up more complex estate planning vehicles, such as trusts. It starts with a conversation with your lawyer about your goals, needs, and concerns. From there we begin filing the legal documents that need to be filed to protect your interests.
How much do lawyers charge for estate planning?
Most of our clients get their estate planning done for anywhere from $300 to $3000. Again, much depends on how complicated your estate ends up being. The more complicated it is, though, the better of an investment a good estate planning strategy is going to be. Note that we will always walk you through our rates before we begin so there will never be any surprises.
What is the difference between a will and an estate plan?
A will is just one component of a broader estate plan. It is the document that outlines your wishes for the division of your assets after death. There are other estate planning vehicles which you might want to incorporate into your overall plan. For example, a life insurance policy is an estate planning vehicle. It distributes funds to the beneficiaries of your choice upon your death. You’ll want to make sure the beneficiaries are up-to-date and the policies you purchase reflect your current needs. Trusts are another estate planning vehicle. Trusts can help you put money aside for various purposes, and will allow you to dictate the ways that money may be used. Trusts also help the beneficiaries of those trusts bypass the probate process. Naming someone as the joint owner on a property is another estate planning method, as jointly owned property generally passes outside the estate. Yet you should usually back this method with a will to ensure that a judge doesn’t overturn your wishes here.
Is it possible to challenge a will?
Yes. Certain parties may challenge a will under certain circumstances. Most of the time, the will may only be challenged by your spouse or by one of your biological or adopted children. They can claim that you did not make “adequate provision for their proper maintenance and support.” What is or is not adequate may be up to the courts to decide, and may depend both on your income and lifestyle and on theirs. A will may also be challenged by someone who worked hard for you for very little pay, who contributed to helping you make your fortune. This is also known as “enriching” you. If they did so with the understanding that they would receive part of your inheritance and you subsequently cut them out of the will, then they may be able to make a challenge. Your will may also be challenged if the challenger can prove you weren’t competent to make a will at the time that you did, or that you made changes to your will under duress, because of fraud, or due to intimidation on the part of one of the other beneficiaries. Another way the will may be challenged is if there is a mistake in the will. “Mistakes” don’t mean someone mistakenly left money to someone they didn’t like, but you could have a mistake in your will if you left money to someone who is no longer alive, or tried to send it to a charity that doesn’t exist. Finally, the will may be challenged if the language is vague or uncertain, or if your wishes can’t be carried out for some reason. In that case, the court has to decide the fair way to divide the assets that could not be divided according to your wishes. A judge will use a number of factors to do this.
What factors does a judge use when deciding whether your will is fair?
A judge must consider a number of factors if they are going to let a challenge to your will stand in court. For example, the courts must consider the value of your assets and your reasons for distributing them the way that you did. They must also think about the relationship between you and the challenger, any gifts you gave that person while you were alive, and whether that person was a dependent of yours in life. They have to look at the entire picture of your estate, such as whether you have joint ownership of a property that’s going to go to someone else regardless of the will. They must decide whether any beneficiaries of the will stepped out of line by dominating, intimidating, or defrauding you into making the decisions you did. Finally, the courts must decide what someone “rational” would have done while writing up your will. Having an estate planning lawyer prevents many of these conversations from happening. We can help make it very clear that your wishes are your wishes. We can help show you what you will need to do vis a vis leaving certain potential challengers assets or making a case for not leaving them assets if there are people you want to cut out of your will. We defend your interests so that they’re honored after your demise.
Why choose Merchant Law as your estate planning law firm?
When you work with a Merchant Law lawyer you get a lawyer who has 20-30 years of estate planning, business, real estate, and civil litigation experience. This gives us a breadth of knowledge that allows us to advise you on even the most complex estate planning issues. Our lawyers are responsive, knowledgeable, and dedicated to helping you achieve your goals. To get started, dial (250) 487-7777 to set your appointment. Gather your documents, solidify your goals, and get ready to protect your interests. The only certainty in life is death. Make sure your family and friends can continue to live well after yours. We have offices in Surrey, Kelowna, Langley, and Victoria, but serve the entirety of British Columbia. We also offer virtual legal appointments for your safety and convenience. Contact us today to get started.