While each person’s situation varies, here are the top 12 reasons to have a will.
1) You decide how your estate will be distributed.
A will lets you determine how you’d like your estate to be handled after your death. If you die without a will, there is no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out since your estate will be distributed according to provincial legislation.
2) You decide who will take care of your minor children.
A will allows you to make an informed decision about who should take care of your minor children. Without a will, the court will take it upon itself to choose among family members or a provincially-appointed guardian. Having a will allows you to appoint the person you want to raise your children and ensures it’s not someone you don’t want to raise them.
3) Avoid a lengthy and costly probate process.
Having a will reduces costs and speeds up the probate process as it informs the court how you’d like your estate divided. Probate courts serve the purpose of “administering your estate”, and if you die without a will (known as dying “intestate”), the court will need to decide how to divide your estate without your input, which can cause unnecessarily long delays and expense.
4) Minimize estate taxes.
A will allows you to minimize your estate taxes, so your loved ones will get the most out of your estate. In Ontario, there are two types of taxes payable on death, income tax and estate administration tax, commonly referred to as probate fees. Both types of tax can be minimized with proper planning. For example, probate fees may be reduced by making appropriate designations on registered plans such as RRSP’s and life insurance policies.
5) You decide who will wind up the affairs of your estate.
Executors make sure all your affairs are in order, including paying bills, canceling credit cards, and notifying the bank and other business institutions. Because executors play the biggest role in the administration of your estate, you’ll want to be sure to appoint someone who is honest, trustworthy, and organized (which may or may not always be a family member).
6) You can disinherit individuals out of your Will who would otherwise stand to inherit your estate if you die without a will.
Because wills specifically outline how and to whom you’d like your estate distributed, absent a will your estate may end up in the wrong hands or in the hands of someone you didn’t intend (such as an ex-spouse).
7) Make gifts and charitable donations.
The ability to make gifts allows your legacy to live on and reflect your personal values and interests, and also has tax benefits which increases the value of your estate for your heirs and beneficiaries to enjoy.
8) Avoid greater legal challenges.
If you die without a will, part or all of your estate may pass to someone you didn’t intend. In one case, a father who wasn’t a part of his son’s life for years stood to inherit his deceased son’s estate leaving close relatives and siblings out of the picture.
9) Because you can change your mind if your life circumstances change.
You can change your mind at any time while you’re still alive and meet the legal mental capacity test to make a will. Life changes, such as births, deaths, and a divorce, can create situations where changing your Will are necessary.
10) You plan to get married.
In Ontario your entire Will is automatically revoked or cancelled once you get married, unless it was made with the marriage in mind. If you don’t make a new will, upon your death you will be considered to have died intestate and the rules under provincial legislation will apply.
11) A separation or divorce.
A divorce revokes the provisions of your Will that refer to your former spouse, so your former spouse will no longer be your executor, trustee or guardian, and any gifts you left to your former spouse will go to someone else depending on the structure of your Will. Because it can get confusing, you should consider making a new will if you get a divorce or separate from a common-law partner. Also, in most cases beneficiary designations, for example, for RRSPs, RRIFs, life insurance policies, and pensions are not affected by a divorce or separation from a common-law partner, so you’ll have to take steps to remove a former spouse or common-law partner as the beneficiary to prevent them from receiving the asset.
12) Because tomorrow is not promised.
Sometimes the realization that wills are necessary comes too late – such as when an unexpected death or disability occurs. To avoid the added stress on your loved ones during an already emotional time, it may be wise to meet with a Will and estate planning lawyer to help you draw up a basic estate plan at the minimum, before it’s too late.
The Law Office of Robert Molinari can help you craft your wishes into a legal document. Start now with a free consultation.