What legacy will you leave for the people you care about most? You’ve worked hard all your life to build your dreams. You’ve gathered assets. Perhaps you’ve built a business. You’ve saved and invested diligently. Have you taken the final step? Have you invested in the estate planning that will ensure your wishes are carried out?
Estate planning is one of the most vital steps in your overall financial plan. It’s the step that helps your business survive. It’s the step that ensures that everyone you cares about gets taken care of after your death, to the best of your ability. It’s the step that passes everything you’ve worked so hard for on to the next generation.
When you sit down to plan for the inevitable day of your death, make sure you have an estate planning lawyer by your side.
Who needs a lawyer’s help to prepare a will or estate plan?
While it is possible to simply write a will yourself or use software, this solution will not be suitable for most high net worth individuals. Indeed, if there are any complications then it’s usually wiser to let a lawyer handle a will. Note: British Columbia does not accept handwritten, or “holograph” wills.
Complications can include divorce and remarriage, especially if there are step-children in your family now. If you’re old enough to have grandchildren and want to provide for them as well as your children, then you’ll need a will to structure that. Otherwise, all the money will pass to either your spouse or your children.
Complications can include business ownership, or the ownership of intellectual property, especially if your property includes royalties. It also can include any situation where you own real estate, especially if you have tenants.
If you have minor children, adult disabled family members, or other people who depend on you then you will definitely want to get estate planning help so that they continue to receive ongoing support after you’re gone.
Finally, there are situations where you might have people who would be eligible to inherit that you prefer to avoid leaving money to, or prefer to leave money to only under very specific circumstances. For example, if you have a fiscally irresponsible child it may be better to set up a spendthrift trust on their behalf then it would be to leave them a large lump sum.
If you’re not sure, you should talk to a lawyer. Creating a will and an estate plan is an affordable way to get peace of mind about your family’s future.
Don’t forget: it’s also wise to review your will and estate plan every three to five years, or whenever you undergo a major lifestyle change like marriage, divorce, separation, or a death in the family that might impact inheritances. Having a lawyer you can trust to work with you on your estate plan again and again offers continuing peace of mind and the assurance that your estate plan reflects your current reality.
What happens if you die without a will in Victoria, BC?
Dying without a will is called dying intestate. This is also the term for what happens when your will is invalid for any reason.
When you die without a will your assets are distributed according to the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act. Under the act, the first $300,000 of your estate goes to your spouse if you have children in common. If you have a spouse with no children in common, the spouse gets $150,000. Either way, the remaining balance of your estate is then split between your spouse and your children. If your children are minors, that money is held by the Public Guardian and Trustee until they turn 19.
If you have no spouse and no children your estate passes first to your parents, then to any brothers or sisters, then to any nieces or nephews, in that order. If these relatives cannot be located the money goes to the government.
Finally, join tassets of any kind go to the person who owns the other portion of the property.
The Act makes no provisions for grandchildren or step-children. It also does not take into account what might be fair, whether you gave large gifts to any of your children in life, the relationship you had to any member of your family, or whether or not you might have wanted to give the money to charity. All of the assets will take much longer to get to their intended destinations, and your loved ones may have to pay extra fees. The guardian of your children won’t be able to access any of your money to see to their care. If you own a business, your business operations could be irrevocably disrupted.
Finally, if you have minor children you will be leaving the courts to determine who will raise them, especially if your spouse is also deceased.
Most people find it is wise to at least put a basic will into place to avoid this unfortunate situation.
What should you bring to your estate planning appointment?
Being prepared for your estate planning appointment means bringing all the information your lawyer needs to get a full and complete picture of what your estate looks like. This means your lawyer will need all of the documents that pertain to your assets and liabilities.
These can include bank statements, investment account statements, stock certificates, tax documents, real estate deeds, timeshare information, titles for all vehicles and recreational vehicles, and copies of all of your bills for all the debts you are currently carrying. If you own a business then you’ll need your business agreements, as well as your profit and loss statements.
You’ll also want to bring birth certificates and adoption papers for any minor children.
Prior to your appointment there are some conversations you’ll want to have. Who will you appoint as your children’s guardian? Get that person’s permission. Who will you ask to administer your will? You’ll need that person’s permission as well.
You’ll also want to make a list of all of your intended beneficiaries. You’ll want to give your lawyer and the courts all the information they need to find these people. This means whenever possible you’re going to want to provide their full name, address, phone number, social insurance number, and date of birth. Do your best to keep this information updated whenever it changes.
Finally you should think a little bit about what may happen if you are medically incapacitated. Which family member do you trust to manage your affairs? Do you want the hospitals to work as hard as possible to save you or do you want to put in a DNR? Who will have the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf? Putting these documents into place is another vital part of the estate planning process, and should be handled at the same time as your will.
How long does it take to prepare a will?
We can usually prepare a will in 24 to 48 hours. If you have more complex estate needs it may take us about a week to get everything set up.
In general, the toughest step is usually the first. Most people don’t like thinking about their own deaths, so they put off will and estate planning for as long as possible. If you can step in and do it, then you’ll tend to find it’s very easy and fast to get it all handled.
How much do lawyers charge for estate planning?
It depends on the needs of the estate. Estate planning can cost between $300 and $3000. It’s an excellent investment and part of your overall financial plan, and will save your family and business partners time, money, and heartache down the road. In other words, most people find the price point imminently fair.
We’ll take you through our fee schedule before we begin work so there aren’t any unpleasant surprises.
What is the difference between a will and estate planning?
A will is just one component of an overall estate plan. It’s the cornerstone of an estate plan, but it’s not all there is to the process.
Your estate plan could also include:
- Medical power of lawyer documents
- Insurance policies
- Revocable or irrevocable trusts
- Co-ownership agreements
- Succession planning for your business
Your will only really achieves the goal of communicating your wishes after death. Some of these other vehicles allow you to pass assets to your loved ones while bypassing the probate process.
Who can challenge a will in British Columbia, and why?
There are only a handful of individuals who have the power to challenge a will in British Columbia. These include:
- Your spouse or adult interdependent partner.
- Your biological or adopted children.
- An individual who played a role in “enriching” a will maker but who was left out of the will.
The will may be challenged under the following circumstances:
- The will-maker failed to make “adequate provisions for the proper maintenance and support” of a spouse or child who was also a dependent or interdependent individual.
- The challenger can prove they enriched you, yet was left nothing on your death.
- The challenger has proof that you weren’t mentally fit to create a will, or weren’t competent to make changes to your will when you did.
- The challenger has proof that you were intimidated, browbeat, or defrauded into changing your will.
- The challenger can show there’s a mistake in the will, or that the will isn’t legally valid.
- The challenger can show that your wishes, as communicated, are impossible to carry out.
A few things can happen when a will is challenged. If a previous version of a will exists, then the courts may default to that version of the will. If one doesn’t, the courts may choose to handle the estate just as if the will-maker had died without a will at all. The courts may also choose to enact “dependents relief” legislation which allows them to honor most of the will but vary it to make the appropriate adjustment in favor of the dependents.
If the courts vary the will, they will consider a number of factors, including the challenger’s relationship with the decedent, whether or not the decedent received any gifts in life, whether the challenger was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. The courts also consider what a rational will-maker would have done, and whether any assets passed outside of the estate.
Why choose a Merchant Law estate planning lawyer?
Want to work with some of the most experienced estate planning lawyers in the industry? Turn to Merchant Law. Most of our lawyers have 2-3 decades of legal experience beneath our belts. In addition to estate planning experience, many of our lawyers bring a breadth of other useful background experience to the table, including real estate law, business law, civil litigation, and more.
You’ll find our lawyers in published legal journals, winning prestigious legal awards, and more. In addition, all of our lawyers help one another, so no matter who your lawyer ends up being you can rest easy knowing that they won’t hesitate to tap into the collective experience of the entire firm.
Don’t put off estate planning for another day. Make sure your wishes are honored after you die. Call (250) 385-7777 to set up your appointment today. Death is the only certainty we have in this life. Make sure your loved ones are prepared for yours.