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When you think of estate plans, do you picture wealthy people arranging how to divide the family’s fortune? Sure, that’s one scenario, but anyone with any assets – such as savings, investments, jewelry, keepsakes, vehicle, home or business – may benefit from estate planning.
Estate planning is a legal process for the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. It allows you to create a formal strategy that helps safeguard your assets and transfer them in an orderly, tax-efficient manner to beneficiaries. It’s all about making the effort to organize your affairs and taking care of loved ones so they don’t need to scramble to manage your estate at a time when they’re likely stressed and grieving.
Given the financial and legal complexities of estate planning and its impact on family, it’s typically wise to engage professionals with experience developing, maintaining and implementing estate plans. Depending on your unique circumstances, such specialists may include:
- A financial/wealth advisor to devise strategies on how to maximize your estate’s value
- An estate lawyer to offer focused legal advice and draft documents related to your estate plan
- A tax accountant to help ensure your estate assets are transferred as tax efficiently as possible
When you work with an advisor, they’ll help establish your estate planning objectives, such as to whom you want to bequeath certain assets, and how to invest for adequate growth. Your advisor can also assist with setting up trusts, such as a trust for spendthrifts (i.e., those who don't handle money well) or minors, so their inheritance is managed prudently. As well, an advisor may identify the need for certain types of insurance.
Do you have a will?
A key part of estate planning is maintaining a current will. Essentially, a will is a legal document in which you provide instructions on how to divide your estate assets when you die. It’s important because a will offers clarity on estate affairs, so your heirs know your wishes and the wealth transfer process is less prone to legal issues. When public opinion research foundation Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey in 2023 to discover how many Canadians had a will, it found that half of respondents said they had a will (although only 37% confirmed their will is up to date). Consider creating or updating your will today.
As you develop the estate plan, your team of experts can collaborate to integrate the planning of overall finances with preparing for retirement and (if applicable) formulating a business succession strategy. An estate plan may also address your wishes for philanthropy/charitable giving, as well as any arrangements for powers of attorney regarding your finances and/or health care, in the event you become physically or mentally incapacitated. Clearly, life isn’t static and circumstances can change (e.g., marriage, children, divorce, property ownership, business sale). Keep your estate plan updated to reflect major life changes that could affect the transfer of your wealth.
Once you’ve completed the estate plan, consider sharing it with loved ones. Your advisory team can help determine who should be aware of your estate plan and what aspects of this plan are relevant to each individual. An advisor can even meet with you and your heirs to help explain the details of your estate plan and answer questions. It’s important that your family understands the key aspects of your plan. Everyone being on the same page can help avoid future surprises, disputes and conflict.
Establishing your legacy
You’ve put much effort into your life and relationships, so you deserve to allocate your estate assets in a way that makes sense for you. Creating an estate plan gives you control over your legacy and may offer everyone involved peace of mind knowing that an eventual transfer of wealth is thoughtful, well organized, tax efficient and according to your wishes.
Granted, estate planning is a challenging endeavour because nobody likes thinking about death, but an estate plan represents an expression of caring for family. You can gain much comfort as you build your estate plan and communicate it to loved ones, so consider starting now.