The High Cost of Not Having a Will in Ontario

Many years ago I created a checklist of items to always discuss with all clients I meet. Whether they had come in to discuss their RRSP or retirement plans or review their critical illness insurance and life insurance policies, I have a systematic process of discussion points to ensure nothing is missed. On that checklist, I consider it my fiduciary responsibility that I ask all clients “Do you have a will?” While I do not provide Will services, as apart of any financial plan I strongly believe it is incomplete without a will in place. Most often I hear, “Oh that was definitely on our list to do” or “We have been meaning to do one!”

The only issue with procrastination of such an important matter is it may turn out to be simply too late.

Whether you decide to shorthand on a napkin, complete a do it yourself will kit online or get professional legal advice, almost any sort of will is better than no will at all. While each situation is unique, please find below the top reasons to have a will in Ontario.

You decide how your assets are divided

Having a will in place ensures that you and not the courts decide how your assets are divided. Interesting to note, that in Ontario a spouse is generally entitled to the first $200,000 of assets, before it is divided amoung any remaining heirs. Any assets above and beyond that are divided between spouse and heirs. For example, client is married with 2 minor children, dies unexpectedly without a will. Estate is worth 500K. The first 200K, would go to spouse, with the remaining 300K divided between the surviving spouse and 2 minor children. Due to the fact children are not of legal age, the court could act as trustee of the minor’s share until they reach age of majority, leaving the children’s share of the estate potentially tied up for years.

You control how your assets are spent

In the above example, beyond the division of assets, you can control how your assets are spent. Perhaps you are concerned with the spending habits of a beneficiary and want to control when and how they have access to those assets. You may want a portion of your assets to be put in a deferred annuity until the beneficiary reaches a certain age. Or perhaps you want to ensure your surviving spouse has immediate access to the estate funds. Having a will allows you to dictate how assets are dispersed according to your wishes, not the courts.

You choose who will take care of your minor children

A will provides the ability to ensure you decide who would take care of your minor children. Absent a will, the courts take control and can choose amoung a family member or court appointed guardian they see fit. Having a will gives peace of mind that your children would be raised by someone you see fit.

Minimize Probate Taxes

Having a will in place allows you to minimize estate taxes by planning ahead. This can save significant money which could mean thousands in reduced taxes. Without a will, many of those opportunities are lost forever. For small business owners having a professional will may also be prudent to ensure optimal tax planning strategies including the dissolution of business shares.

Minimize Probate Fees

Many people do not realize that certain assets in Ontario are subject to probate (remembering certain assets like life insurance proceeds and segregated funds do not form part of the estate and are not subject to probate). The difference however is having a will can significantly speed up the process, thus reducing legal fees and potential executor fees for the estate.

Minimize Probate Delays

Furthermore, without a will, assets can be tied up in the court systems for months and sometimes years. Having a will can avoid long and unnecessary delays for your loved ones, while at the same time significantly reducing costs as discussed above.

Leave a legacy

Having a will allows your estate to give a charitable donation to a charity or charities of your choice. This can provide a tax credit to the estate while providing you an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

Name an Executor to handle your affairs

Having a will allows you and not the courts to decide who will handle your financial affairs. An executor is responsible for, amoung other items: securing and appraising the value of assets, applying for probate when necessary and paying estate taxes and debts. Given the vital role an executor plays, having a will ensures you choose a person you trust.

Avoid the unexpected claim

While anyone can lay claim to the assets of an estate, having a will significantly reduces the likelihood that an unintended claimant is successful. Having a will allows the courts to get a much clearer picture of the intended recipient(s).

Avoid the unintended recipient

Having a will allows you to remove individuals that may have otherwise been entitled to a portion or all of your estate. Wills allow you to specify exactly who receives the proceeds of your estate.

Protecting your common law partner – In Ontario, common law partners are not provided the same benefit as spouses under the Succession Law Reform Act. In short, a common law partner is not entitled to inherit from a deceased partner’s estate and is furthermore not protected under the Family Law Act as it relates to equalization of property.

CONCLUSION

Many years ago I dealt with an unfortunately tragic situation where a young mother in Oakville died unexpectedly leaving behind a minor child and common law partner. She died without a will. Given the rights afforded to her common law partner, the age of her child, The Office of the Children’s Lawyer was and remains involved with most of the assets not accessible to the surviving partner. Perhaps it would have been her intention to leave all her assets to her child in trust, however unfortunately she never got the opportunity to document this.

Stop procrastinating today. Contact an expert or complete a do it yourself will kit. Protect those you love from further hardship.

For all financial planning and insurance related matters, contact Protect Your Wealth today to learn more! We proudly service clients in Ancaster, Burlington, Dundas, Hamilton, Oakville, Waterdown and the surrounding areas.