The biggest benefit of having a will is peace of mind. You make your will to enjoy the benefits during your lifetime. Your loved ones also benefit from an up-to-date will. As I’ll explain, making a will is not a do-it-yourself project. I’ll also give you a checklist to keep your will current.
Everyone needs a will. It’s not just something you do when you get married or retire. There’s no reward in waiting to make a will.
Do wills and estate plans make a difference?
Ask a family member who suffered where there was no will. These families inherited problems because a relative did not make a will. They are the ones who will not understand why you don’t bother to make a will.
Benefits from Wills
• Income taxes can be deferred and not paid immediately
• Income-splitting devices can be used to minimize taxes
• You can postpone when beneficiaries inherit
• You can protect your assets from creditors
• Trusts can shelter and protect infants and grandchildren
• Wills can capitalize on new tax-saving strategies
Wills don’t cost money. They save it.
DIY Wills: Who Pays For Your Mistakes?
You may think making a will is not a big deal. You’re not a lawyer, so you believe you don’t have to get things perfect. But, unfortunately, the laws relating to wills are strict.
Judges often have no right to rewrite your will or correct it. Some jurisdictions do not allow a court to ignore even minor technical breaches in your will.
Here is what happened to Christy. Victor, her uncle, made his will from a computer program. Victor asked Christy to read a draft copy. She was surprised to read she was left a bank account and stock portfolio.
Uncle Victor was glad Christy approved of his will. He told her he would print out another revised copy and sign it before his surgery. Unfortunately, the surgery was not successful. When Victor’s will was read, Christy had another surprise. Victor had signed the will, but two lines were missing—the ones that included her gift. Had he not noticed there was a printer malfunction?
Christy thought she could use the draft will to prove Victor’s gift. Unfortunately, the courts have strict rules about repairing wills. Christy saw it only as a minor problem that needed to be fixed. The other beneficiaries who stood to inherit those assets disagreed. They said Victor’s omission was deliberate. The result was an expensive court case.
Everyone hired a lawyer and took sides. The results of the case vary depending on the jurisdiction where Victor lived. Christy may have been disappointed. She could face the cost of losing the case to boot.
What if Victor had seen the mistake before he signed the will?
Let’s say he did sign it—but in front of only one witness, not the two witnesses that the local law requires. Victor’s will would not be valid and no court could rectify that error. Getting only fifty percent (one out of two witnesses) is still one hundred percent wrong.
Use a lawyer to make your will. Lawyers can satisfy all the legal requirements for your will. When you spread the cost of your will over the years, it can be pennies a day. A court fight over your estate costs thousands of dollars a day in court.
Lawyers keep learning about constant changes to the tax and estate system. Why pretend you can get it right by yourself?
Do you already have a will? Use this checklist to make sure you are covered.
Your Will Checklist
Use this will checklist as your review.
I did confirm who will be my estate executors Yes / No
I did provide for my spouse in my will. Yes / No
I did name guardians for my minor children. Yes / No
I did a new will when my marital status changed. Yes / No
I did protect disadvantaged children and adults. Yes / No
I did prepare for the succession or sale of my business.
I did provide care for my pets and animals. Yes / No
I did support my charitable causes. Yes / No
I did keep a promise. Yes / No
I did consider my grandchildren. Yes / No
I did tell my estate executors where to find my original will, inventory of assets and liabilities and details for my digital estate. Yes / No
Yes is the correct answer to every question.
The Simple Truth about Wills
• Wills transfer what you leave behind for your heirs.
• You have a duty to make your will.
• You should keep your will up to date.
Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, and C.S.) is an Ontario lawyer, nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto-based Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law. Ed’s law firm website is MrWills.com © 2014