Don’t leave your will to the last minute

There is no such thing as a last-minute deal when it comes to making a will.

In fact, the only bonus an estate planning latecomer can expect is an extra dose of heartache and hassle for themselves and their loved ones.

More than half of Canadians are reported to have no will at all in place, and while the COVID-19 crisis has spurred some into action, too many people are still waiting until the last possible moment.

Meanwhile, healthcare restrictions brought on by the pandemic have made it much tougher for testators or their close family members scrambling to get the ball rolling on an estate plan: in recent months, I’ve taken many panicked calls from relatives wondering how to transfer property or get powers of attorney in place when they’re unable to visit their dying loved ones in hospital or long-term care.

None of us really knows how long this situation will stretch on, so the best way to avoid some of that chaos is by acting now and drafting a will.

I understand that nobody really likes talking about death – especially their own – but I promise your friends and family will thank you for having an estate plan if it means they don’t have to deal with the prospect of an intestacy at an already emotionally difficult time.

In addition to unnecessary probate fees eating into the value of their estate, people who die without a will risk leaving their property in the hands of people they would never have wanted involved.

Instead, it’s the government that essentially decides – via Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, which sets strict rules for the distribution of assets.

But the Act makes no provision for the individual circumstances of the deceased, which can lead to issues, especially for those with anything but a conventional family arrangement. Testators with common-law partners, estranged spouses or blended families can reduce the risk of an estate dispute by making sure they have an up-to-date will in place reflecting their wishes.

Even if you have had a will in place for a while, this may be a good time to take a fresh look, since an outdated will is not much better than none at all.

Things change for both you and the people in your life, so the beneficiaries and executor you picked a decade ago may no longer make sense, especially if you’ve had a major life event or marital status change in the meantime.

The good news is that it’s never been easier to get your affairs in order. Under emergency regulations prompted by the COVID crisis, Ontarians no longer need to meet in person with their lawyer (or anyone else) in order to make their will official.

The temporary rules allow wills to be legally witnessed via audio-visual communication technology, as long as one of the two witnesses is a licensee of the Law Society of Ontario and the app used allows participants to see, hear and speak with each other in real time.

It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to bring estate planning into the 21st Century, but in my office, we have embraced this and other technological advances to make legal assistance more accessible and affordable for all.

Disclaimer: The content on this web site is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this web site are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.