You need to make sure your estate is looked after, your finances are taken care of and your health-care directives are carried out. Here are six things you need to know about creating a will.
1. Your will needs an executor
The executor carries out the directives in the will, making sure that whatever you decided upon happens. That person will also be responsible for paying final taxes and debts, dividing property and shutting down accounts. Usually, people choose a trusted friend or relative -- a financial adviser can't be involved, as it could be considered a conflict of interest -- but a lawyer may be appointed.
2. You have to appoint two powers of attorney
There are two powers of attorney (POA) that you'll need to appoint — one to look after your finances and one to look after your health-care needs. (It's typically not the same person.) These people do pretty much the same thing as an executor, but they only come into play if you're incapacitated.
The financial POA will be able to handle investments on your behalf and pay off debts, among other things. The health-care POA will make decisions on any treatments or surgeries you might need to undertake, as well as whether to pull the plug on life support.
3. You can use your will to name a guardian
If you've got children under 18, you should name a guardian to look after them if something happens. You don't want the courts to decide where your children go. Choose a friend or relative you trust who shares similar values -- and if your kids are old enough, consider consulting them as well.
4. The government will split your assets if you don't have a will
If you don't have a will, then the government will decide who gets what. In most cases, the surviving spouse inherits the first $200,000 of an estate and the rest would be split between living parents and children. Why not kids first? As Edward Olkovich, a Toronto-based lawyer and author of Estate Planning in Six Simple Steps, told Advisor.ca, you don't want children under 18 to own part of the estate. "Imagine having a six-year-old inherit part of a house," he says. "Try mortgaging that."
5. Keep the original will in a safe place, and a copy at home
Only an original will -- no photocopies -- can be shown in court. Usually the will is kept by the client in a safety deposit box, or by the lawyer. There have been cases where the original wasn't presented and the judge revoked the wishes of the deceased, so make sure people know where the original is being kept.
6. Your will needs to be updated regularly
As your family changes, so should your will. Make sure you update -- or at least review -- the document after any major life event, such as a divorce, birth, death or change to your economic status.
Making a will isn't hard or overly expensive -- it could cost $1,000 or more depending on the complexity of the document and how much your lawyer charges per hour. But whatever the cost, it's worth it. You don't want a judge deciding your estate's fate.
Page 1 of 1