Grey divorcees need new wills to go with new life

Canada’s growing population of grey divorcees should make a new estate plan part of their fresh start in life. 

While Statistics Canada reports that the country’s overall divorce rate has plunged in the last 30 years, one group has bucked the trend: over-50s. 

In the early 1990s, roughly 13 of every 1,000 married people divorced each year, but by 2020, the most recent stats available show that the rate has more than halved to just 5.6. For over-50s though, the divorce rate actually increased by about 26 per cent over the same period.

Experts are not entirely sure on what is driving the grey divorce boom, with some pointing to family law reforms and others suggesting that Baby Boomers are simply more pre-disposed to divorce than earlier generations.  

Whatever the reasons for the trend, divorce is a great time to take stock of your life and future priorities. The next step is to ensure that your will accurately reflects those wishes.  

In an ideal world, I would like to see people updating their wills on an annual basis, but for many, landmark moments such as marriage, the birth of a child or a major financial windfall are more realistic times to revisit their testamentary choices. Divorce may or may not be as joyous as some of these other momentous occasions, but either way, it remains one of the most important events in their lives.  

Luckily, Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act will take care of some of the work for you. Recognizing that divorced testators would generally not want their former partner receiving gifts or serving as executor of their estate, Section 17 of the legislation presumptively revokes those parts of a will, treating the ex-spouse as if they had predeceased the testator. 

Of course, there are cases where amicably divorced spouses may want their ex to inherit even after a split, and the s. 17 revocations will not kick in if a will specifically states this preference. 

Still, in the majority of cases, divorcees will want to consider fresh heirs and a new executor to replace a former spouse. It’s also important to remember that the SLRA has no impact on beneficiary designations for things like life insurance or pension plans, so divorcees will have to change those preferences proactively. 

Although a second marriage is no longer a risk for intestacy in Ontario, thanks to the repeal of legislation that automatically revoked the previous wills of both parties to the union, each spouse will need to take extra care, especially is either has children from a previous relationship.

Provincial laws have evolved over time to catch up with modern blended family arrangements, but it also means testators have more to account for when it comes to estate planning. 

That’s why it’s important to get help from an experienced professional who can ask the right questions about your situation – making sure there are no nasty surprises for beneficiaries, and minimizing the chance of an expensive legal challenge to the will. 

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