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The importance of preparing a Will
Your Will is a statement of what you want done with your property when you die. It is also the document that designates someone to raise your children if you and your spouse die together. If you have dependent children, it could be the most important document you'll ever sign.

Your Will protects your family in the short term by giving them the money they need to pay immediate bills should you die. A properly drafted will goes much further, anticipating future needs such as your children's or grandchildren's schooling. It can also greatly reduce the income taxes your estate must pay.  Everyone over the age of 18 with assets of any kind should have a Will.

Here are some pointers to consider in preparing your Will:


Hire a Lawyer
Distributing Your Assets

If you are married, sit down with your spouse and discuss how you want your assets to be managed and distributed. You may decide to leave everything to each other, but what if you both die at the same time? How will your property be handled? What if your children die before you?

Select a Guardian

Decide who you would like to raise your children should both you and your spouse die. Consider a potential guardian's age, other children, professional responsibilities, and location. Discuss your wishes with your top candidate and be sure they are willing to accept the responsibility. Obtain their full address and full legal name.

Tax Considerations

Ensure you have arranged your affairs to keep income taxes and probate fees to a minimum; for example, name your spouse beneficiary of your RRSP or RRIF to take advantage of the tax-deferred rollover. Determine whether you will have enough cash in your estate to pay your final tax bill - which could be much larger than you think - or if assets will have to be sold to achieve this.

Choosing an Executor

Give careful consideration to choosing your executor. Ideally, the person will be trustworthy, have good business sense, be able to handle the paperwork, and be living nearby. Choose an alternative executor in case the first one cannot do the job. If your estate is substantial, you may want to appoint your spouse and a trust company as co-executors.

List Your Assets

Although you do not need an inventory of everything you own, it will be helpful to list assets such as your home, cottage, rental properties, business interests, life insurance, and registered savings plans such as RRSPs and RRIFs. You will also need to mention special gifts - such as a stamp collection or your grandfather's gold watch.

List Your Assets' Beneficiaries

If you intend to bequeath property, make sure you own it outright and not jointly. Jointly held property automatically goes to the surviving partner when you die.

If you plan to leave money to a charity, make sure you have its proper name.

Check whom you have named as beneficiary of your RRSP, RRIF and life insurance policies.

Will trusts be needed to provide for your dependents? If so, who will act as trustee? Do you have dependents with special needs?

If you have children from a previous marriage, will they be provided for if you leave everything to your current spouse? What will happen to your children's inheritance if your spouse remarries?

What if your children divorce? Do you want to include a special clause to prevent their former spouses from claiming a share of the income earned on their inheritance?

If your estate is large or complicated – or if you have a family business – it would be prudent to get specialized tax and legal advice.

Wills and Marital Status

If your family situation changes, you must review your will.

Marriage

In most provinces, if you get married, your existing will is automatically revoked. The only time this isn't true is if you state in your will that it was drawn up in contemplation of marriage. If your will becomes invalid due to marriage and you die, unless you make a new will, the court will rule that you died intestate, with all the negative consequences that brings.

Divorce

If you divorce, any bequests to your former spouse will be revoked, and your former spouse will not be able to act as your executor. This is not the case if you are separated.
If you are making child support payments, you may want to revise your will to set aside assets or take out an insurance policy to cover the payments after your death.
People who are separated should revise their wills if they start living in a common-law relationship. Otherwise, you run the risk of your entire estate going to your estranged spouse – and your current partner being left out in the cold.


Dying Without a Will

If you die intestate (without a will), the provincial government will step in and appoint someone to distribute your assets.
The rules vary from province to province. Generally speaking, your children's share of the estate will be held in trust until they are 18. While they will receive the entire amount at 18, the question you must ask yourself is: Will they be mature enough to manage it?
A will is the only place where you can elect who you would like to be the guardian of your children. Without a will, the courts will decide who raises them.
Dying without a will can also seriously affect the value of your estate. For example, your estate may have to pay income taxes that could have been avoided. Further, taxes due as a result of your death may force the sale of the family cottage – or even the family business.
In short, the distribution of your assets may not reflect what your beneficiaries need or what you would have wanted.

The message is clear – a will is one of the cornerstones of financial planning. If you have a family, or have accumulated any assets, have one prepared - and soon.
 

 
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