Moneywise: Canadians not organizing their end-of-life documents

Few people like to think about their end of life, but making proper plans and getting all the legal and financial paperwork and information in order before anything happens is extremely important.

Some recent studies over the last few years indicate that about half to two thirds of Canadians don’t have a will.

A survey by, for example, has found that 62 per cent of Canadians do not have a last will and testament and nearly 12 per cent have wills which are out of date.

One would expect that the majority who do not have a will would be young people, but the survey found that a little under half of people 65 and older do not have a will.

“A will is something that a lot of people say they know they need but often they just don’t get around to doing anything about it – out of sight, out of mind,” says Jeff Wilson, a financial adviser with Sun Life Financial Canada in Edmonton. “Often it takes a trigger event to get people to do something about it.”

A will, in fact, is just one of three key pillars of end-of-life planning that people need to take care of and have in place.

Whether young or old, single or married, affluent or going through some tough times, everyone needs a Will.

Wills not only describe the distribution of your assets and possessions, they allow you to make key appointments including an executor, who takes care of your affairs on your behalf when you are incapacitated or gone, and guardians for young children.

If you die without a will your estate goes to probate and the courts will decide how to split up your assets according to provincial laws of intestate succession, which may be in a way that does not reflect how you would have chosen to distribute your assets. It can take anywhere up to two years to probate a will and process an estate.

A will that is out of date could be one which was written before, or which does not accurately reflect, your current financial, marital and family circumstances such as getting married or remarried and having children.

“The will basically lays out who is going to get what, your directions for your funeral (burial versus cremation), your wants and desires as well as appointing an executor and/or guardian,” says Wilson. “It is very material to your estate.”

The other two pillars are a personal directive and a power of attorney.

Also known as a living will, advance directive or medical care directive, a personal directive is a legal document which specifies what action should be taken for the individual’s health should that person no longer be able to make decisions for themselves due to illness or incapacity, such as whether or not to receive blood products and whether or not to be kept alive on life support systems.

A Power of Attorney (POA) acts on the individual’s behalf and in their best interests and could be responsible for signing documents for specific transactions and doing banking on their behalf.

Wilson says it’s important for people to think about their end of life and prepare all of the above in a timely fashion before something happens. It’s also a good idea to gather all necessary documents and information pertaining to your will, POA, health directive and all other personal/family, property, financial, insurance and legal matters in one place for easy reference in the event that a serious illness or death occurs.

“It makes everything a whole lot easier on everyone involved and can make the processing of the estate a lot faster and less complicated and expensive,” says Wilson.

Talbot Boggs is a Toronto-based business communications professional who has worked with national news organizations, magazines and corporations in the finance, retail, manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

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