Written by Lesley Russell | ~5 Min read
When considering your future plans and arranging your estate, keeping track of the many details that come with it can be challenging. To make the process more manageable, we’ve put together the Estate Planning Checklist - a list of the most important things that you will need to work through and note in the process of making a Will and estate plan. We recommend working through each of the steps below, alongside legal support to ensure no necessary documentation is missed.
Choose an executor or trustee
A very important role in estate planning is choosing an executor for your Will. An executor is responsible for administering your estate and ultimately distributing the assets in your estate to your beneficiaries.
If you die without a Will then there is no executor. In that case, the laws in British Columbia set out who has the right to apply to the court to become the administrator of your estate. The law also dictates who your beneficiaries are (called intestate successors)) and how your assets are to be divided among them. The additional time and expense in dealing with an intestate estate outweighs the cost of preparing a Will in the first place.
Identify your assets
One of the most important aspects of estate planning and creating a Will is the process of identifying your assets and considering how they should be distributed upon death. Assets include larger items such as a home or investments, to smaller assets, such as vehicles or valuable jewelry. You should have a good idea of the current value of your assets, and also the amount of any debts or liabilities you owe, when you are preparing your estate plan and Will.
More complicated assets such as a business or foreign assets need to be considered carefully, so that these assets can be more easily dealt with following the death of the owner.
Speaking with a legal professional to understand which assets and liabilities will form part of your Will and which assets will pass outside of your Will is imperative to having a coherent estate plan. Not properly understanding how your assets will flow upon your passing can result in your plan not going according to plan, and unexpected financial issues and stress for your family and executor.
Create a record of assets
Ideally, you should keep a record of your various assets and liabilities. In particular, you want to make it easy for your executor to be able to identify them. A list with the financial institutions where you hold accounts, who the owners are (whether yourself or if they are joint with another person), and where applicable (for example with RRSPs or TFSAs) who your beneficiaries are is helpful. If you have electronic or digital assets, you should keep a record of what these are and how they can be accessed.
It is also useful to keep records of items like insurance documents and pension information.
Identify your beneficiaries within your estate plan and Will
Perhaps one of the most important steps in estate planning and preparing a Will is identifying who exactly will be the beneficiaries of your assets. Beneficiaries of a Will do not necessarily receive all the assets. This is because not all assets are controlled by the provisions in your Will. Therefore, understanding what assets are in the Will and what assets will pass outside the Will is critical to making sure your estate plan does what you want it to do.
As well, the laws in BC require a willmaker to adequately consider their spouse and children when making a Will. Therefore, it is important to keep them in mind when estate planning and preparing your Will. Blended families need very careful consideration.
Lastly, who you wish to name as beneficiaries may change over time (for example, when there are changes within a family, or changes in your assets). You should review your estate plan and Will periodically.
Consider Preparing a Power of Attorney and Representation Agreement
While a Will deals with a person’s assets, it has no legal authority until that person has died. While alive, if you become incapable or unable to deal with your assets and financial matters, you can prepare a Power of Attorney, which names those people who you trust to manage your financial matters for you if you are unable or require assistance.
If you also need assistance or are unable to make health care or personal care decisions, you can prepare a Representation Agreement. This is a legal document granting legal authority to those people you name as your representatives, who can then make these types of decisions for you.
Having these personal planning documents in place not only gives you peace of mind knowing that those you trust have the necessary legal authority to help you if you need it, it also gives your loved ones the legal tools they need to be able to assist you if necessary.