The will isn't everything

Don’t get me wrong, the will is an important part of estate planning. However, it isn’t everything. When I do a will with clients, I typically have them do two other documents, the enduring power of attorney and the personal directive. I also talk with clients about assets that they may have that fall outside the scope of the estate. In many cases, clients may benefit from doing certain things outside of their will, such as changing the way certain assets are held.

The enduring power of attorney

If you’re doing a will, you should probably also be doing an enduring power of attorney. The EPA specifies who will make financial decisions for you if you become mentally incompetent. While it makes perfect sense to consider what will happen to your property when you die, it makes no sense at all to completely disregard the possibility that you might become mentally incompetent at some point in your life. If that happens, either due to age or due to a brain injury, then you will need someone to deal with your property on your behalf.

If you’re doing a will, you’re doing it for your loved ones. But how will your loved ones be affected if you become mentally incompetent and no one has the legal authority to deal with your property? If you’re involved in estate planning to protect your family, don’t skimp on this crucial step.

People are living longer and longer these days. If you live long enough, the chances are good that you will suffer some degree of mental decline. A significant percentage of the population will be diagnosed with dementia. Be good to yourself and your family and do an EPA while you’re doing your will.

The personal directive

The personal directive is similar to an enduring power of attorney, but instead deals with personal and medical decisions. Having a personal directive will help ensure that you get proper care if something happens to you. This is not something to overlook.

Planning outside of the will

This may come as a surprise, but certain classes of assets actually fall outside of the will. For example, a couple may wish to put each spouse as a joint owner on the family home. With joint ownership, if one person dies, the survivor becomes the sole owner, regardless of what was indicated in the will. If that’s not what is intended, then title to the home can be changed to another type of co-ownership, tenancy in common.

Proceeds from life insurance also typically fall outside of the will. For that reason, you want to make sure that the beneficiaries who are listed on your insurance policy are the people you wish to benefit from the policy.

Also if you have a business or own property in multiple jurisdictions, even multiple provinces, you may also have to engage in business succession planning or tax planning. Estate planning should be approached holistically. Don’t just deal with bits and pieces. Make sure you consider how everything fits together.

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In Alberta, a person’s capacity to do a will, assuming capacity is an issue, is determined after the fact by a court.