Death is the only certainty any of us have. Sooner or later, all of us die.
You’ve worked hard all of your life to gather assets and build a legacy. What will happen to that legacy when you are gone? Are you absolutely sure that everyone you want to take care of will get what they need?
You can have that certainty. You just need an air-tight estate plan. Reach out to the lawyers at Merchant Law to start creating yours.
What happens if you die without a will in Langley, BC?
When you die “intestate” in British Columbia your assets are divided according to the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act. All of your assets will be subject to probate, which means your beneficiaries will face extra delays and fees. In addition, the Act will determine how your assets are distributed.
If you have a spouse and you have children in common your spouse receives the first $300,000 of your assets. Any remaining assets go to your children, both biological and adopted. Step-children are excluded.
If you do not have children in common with your spouse the spouse gets the first $150,000 of your assets.
In either case, the balance of your assets are then distributed to your adopted or biological children.
Right away you begin to see the problem: if you have step-children you love but have never formally adopted you won’t be able to provide for them if you die without a will.
If you don’t have a spouse or children then the assets are distributed first to your parents, then to your brothers or sisters, and then to your nieces or nephews. If you have none of these living your assets will go to the government.
If you have jointly held assets the asset will pass outside the estate, going to the other owners.
Note that you’ll also lose the ability to have your spouse or appointed guardian manage your children’s assets if they are under the age of 19. It will go into a government held trust until they come of age.
If you don’t have very many assets to begin with and have a fairly straightforward family structure you may not, strictly speaking, need a will. If you have more than $150,000 in assets and want to provide for a step-child, a sibling, or other parties then you will absolutely want a will to help you make sure those assets go where you want them to go.
Will Preparation Checklist – Documents to Bring to Your Lawyer
A lawyer cannot do a good job of helping you plan your estate without a full and complete picture of your financial reality. This means you’ll need to gather some information before you make your first appointment. You’ll also have to have some conversations, as in some cases you may be appointing individuals to take on certain roles in the event of your death. You can’t force them to take these roles, which means it’s a good idea to secure their permission before you proceed. Most commonly, these roles include the executor of your estate and the guardian of your children if the guardian will not be a living spouse.
Prior to visiting the lawyer you should gather the following:
- Bank statements for all account types, including investment accounts, money market accounts, etc.
- Information about all of your investments.
- Tax returns.
- Deeds for any real estate you own and information about what’s going on with those properties (primary residence, investment properties, etc.)
- Lists of jewelry, art, coins, antiques and other valuable collectables, with appraisals if possible.
- Titles for cars, trucks, and recreational vehicles.
- Debt statements for all debt types.
- Birth certificates and adoption papers for all of your children.
In addition, you’re going to need to bring contact information for everyone who might play a role in your estate, either as a beneficiary, executor, or guardian. To ensure that they can be found in the event of your death, you should bring their full names, complete addresses, phone numbers, social insurance number, and their DoB. Whenever you update your will in the future you’re going to want to update this information as well, just to make things easier on your executor when the time comes.
Why hire a lawyer to write your will?
While creating a valid will can be done without a lawyer, it can cause problems to make the attempt without one. Wills may be challenged in court under certain circumstances. If you want an air-tight will and an estate plan that you are absolutely sure will distribute your assets according to your wishes, then you’re going to want to get a lawyer involved.
If someone challenges your will successfully you’ll be right back at square one, with the courts distributing your assets as they see fit. This could mean assets go where you would not have chosen for them to go, and may mean that people end up cut out of your will that you would have preferred to see paid.
If you care about where your money goes after you die, it pays to invest in expert legal help right now.
How long does it take for a lawyer to draw up an estate plan?
It depends on the complexity of your estate.
If you’re using estate planning vehicles like joint property ownership or trusts then we may need a week to get everything drawn up.
If you’re just trying to put a will together we can usually have that down in 24-48 hours.
You may not know what you need, and that’s okay too. We’re happy to take a look at your entire financial picture and offer some advice that can help you make choices about your family’s future. Come armed with broad goals, and we’ll be happy to help you make a plan that meets them.
How much does it cost to make a will?
Costs vary. Most initial estate planning can be done for less than $3000.
The complexity of your estate will play a role in the final cost. There won’t be any surprises. We’ll talk about retainers and hourly rates before you begin.
Once you have an estate plan in place it will only take a little money and time to review it every three to five years. We recommend this just to make sure that your estate plan continues to reflect your financial reality and wishes. A lot can change in a handful of years.
It also costs very little to make the inevitable adjustments that will need to be made should you face a change in your life circumstances such as marriage, divorce, separation, or the death of a spouse.
What is the difference between a will and an estate plan?
A will is just one component of an overall estate plan. An estate plan can also include trusts, jointly owned property, and insurance policies. It should cover every aspect of what happens when you die, from who takes care of your children to who gets the house.
A will can do some of the work, but it can’t do all of the work. Certain aspects of estate planning can also reinforce what you’ve put into your will, ensuring that your wishes are respected and your will is safe from challenges.
Doing it right can protect your family in other ways. For example, in some cases you may have joint ownership of a property with a family member, only for the judge to force that property back into the estate because the ownership of the property contradicts the will. Proper estate planning keeps things like this from happening.
Finally, a will, on its own, is often an inadequate tool if you have any special circumstances. This can include step-children, business ownership, complex investments, or a desire to leave any part of your estate to charity. You will need a lawyer’s help to make sure you are able to navigate each and every one of these special circumstances correctly.
When can a will be challenged?
Wills may be challenged only by the spouse or child of the will-maker in most case, or when a person is able to make the case that they have played a role in “enriching” the will-maker, perhaps by working for them for years to help them build their company, for very little pay.
If the challenger is a spouse or child, they’d usually be making their challenge on the grounds that you have “failed to make adequate provision for their proper maintenance and support.” Note that only biological and adopted children may make this claim; step-children are ineligible.
The will may also be challenged if the challenger has proof that you were not competent to put together a will at the time you put together your last one, or that you changed your will under duress, or due to fraud or intimidation.
There are also times when the court will throw out a will because it was vague, uncertain, or impossible to carry out. This most often happens when someone attempts to make a DIY will because they oversimplify the language. It doesn’t take a lawyer to make a will valid, but it often takes a lawyer to make a will viable.
When deciding whether to honor the will or to drop back to the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act, the courts consider any number of factors. First, they’ll consider why the will-maker wanted to distribute their assets the way that they did, and the value of those assets. They will also evaluate the financial circumstances of the will-maker and the financial circumstances of the challenger. For example if you’re a high net worth individual and your biological child is struggling by on $25,000 a year, and you’ve left that child nothing, the courts may well intervene.
The courts will also consider the relationship between you and the challenger, and whether the challenger ever depended on you financially. If the challenger has a disability the courts must consider this as well.
If there are assets already passing outside of the estate to someone else the courts will take this into account as well.
If you made gifts to the challenger while you were still alive those gifts will be taken into account, and may be treated as a sort of an “advance on the inheritance.”
Each and every one of these factors creates an opportunity for unpredictability that could result in a failure to honor your wishes.
Reduce the chances that your assets will go where you don’t want them to go. Using a lawyer for estate planning eliminates mistakes, closes avenues for challenges, and ensures your wishes are anything but vague.
Why choose a Merchant Law lawyer for your estate planning needs?
Our estate planning lawyers typically have 2 to 3 decades of experience working in the fields of estate planning, business law, real estate law, and civil litigation. We’re prepared to take on even the most complex of asset profiles. We have the skills to defend your will in court should trouble arise, and the skills to anticipate trouble so that we don’t have to.
Many of our lawyers are award winning lawyers who have been published in prestigious journals and who have handled some of British Columbia’s most high net worth individuals. We can help you, too.
Don’t wait too long to put your estate plan in place. Gather your documents and call (604) 535-7777 today. We can give you peace of mind in a week or less.
Life is unpredictable. Protect your family and your legacy by taking the proper steps today.