Where there’s a will, there’s a … will

Over coffee with one of my girlfriends recently, we were talking about the seemingly unsurmountable pile of things to do in our lives and how there never seems to be enough time to do it. We’re not talking about the usual things like the never-ending pile of laundry, but about the bigger to-dos, like renovating the Master bathroom (me) or making a will (her).

What??? You don’t have a will?!?!

I was shocked that my incredibly smart and savvy mother-of-two friend didn’t have a will. I got talking to some of my other mummy friends, and as it turns out, several of them don’t have a will either. How can this be???

So with them in mind, I thought it was about time to write about why (as a parent) it’s important to have a will. Even if only half of you reading this go out and get a will, that’s enough to make writing this post worth it!!! (And if you already have a will, congratulations!!!)

Reason #1: your kid(s)

“For parents, a will is the single most important thing you can do to make sure your child is cared for by the people you want if anything should happen to you.”

— babycenter.ca

Seriously folks. Who would you rather decide the fate of your children: the government or you? I realize that seems a bit dramatic, but the way I understand it is this: if you have a will, you appoint a guardian to care for your children should anything happen to you. If you don’t have a will, the government gets to choose who raises your kids. Perhaps you think your sister would do a great job. After all, she already has kids and has a similar parenting style to you. But maybe the government looks at the situation and sees a stay-at-home mum in a different province from you with a husband who travels a lot for work and doesn’t think this is a good choice. They appoint your sister-in-law, who has a good income and lives in the same city, as guardian, ignoring the fact that you and her rarely see eye-to-eye and haven’t spoken in the past 6 months.

Maybe you don’t think your siblings would be the best choice. You can always appoint your parents (although I recommend choosing someone in the same generation as you, since your parents are more likely to die before you do), or a close friend. Although if you choose to appoint a close friend as guardian, don’t insist on 2 unmarried friends to share the guardianship, unless, of course, your life is going to be turned into a Hollywood rom com. 😛

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « life as we know it »(Trailer available to watch here)

Reason #2: money for your kid(s)

Without a will “… the government will decide your child’s financial future. The government will also take a portion of your estate, as their fee.”

— Jim Yih, http://www.retirehappy.ca

Without a will, your kids might not get as much money as you want them to have. Why not? Well, for starters, the government will deduct a fee for sorting out who gets what. Secondly, it will take longer for the money to get to your kids since the government needs time to sort it all out (and if you happen to die with a 17-year-old who needs that money for post-secondary in a few months, this delay could prove costly and frustrating).

Thirdly, with the government controlling the money, your child will receive their share once they hit the age of majority (18 or 19, depending on in which province/territory you live). How many 18-year-olds do you know that are fiscally responsable? When I was in high school one of my girlfriends was dating a guy whose mother had sadly passed away when he was younger. When he turned 18, he inherited a rather large sum of money and over the next year proceeded to squander it on new sneakers, clothes, and entertainment. With a will, you can avoid this by putting the money in a trust or by specifying when the child is to receive their inheritance.

Reason #3: family heirlooms

In your will, you can specify who gets what. Sure, you might not care who gets your clothes, shoes, or trusty lawnmower, but what about the portrait of your grandmother as a baby? A watch your grandfather managed to smuggle out as he was escaping Nazi-Europe back in the day? Without a will, these things might be sold off to cover any fees or debts that remain once you die. (Of course, having proper life insurance will also help with this, but that’s a post for another day — I’m still learning about that myself!)

For example, my daughter “has” a necklace that used to belong to her great-great-grandmother. (I say “has” because although it is technically hers, it is waiting in a safe deposit box until she’s old enough to treat it with respect instead of using it as a leash for her stuffed horse.) This is not something that I want to see sold off to cover estate expenses.

Reason #4: Peace of mind

For a couple of hundred dollars ($350 according to babycenter.ca), you can have a lawyer draft up a will that, if you’re smart about it, will function quite nicely for the next 20 years or so when you might want to redo it. You can use wording like “assets to be split equally between all of my children” to cover the possibility that you might have another kid one day (and thus save yourself another $350 down the road). For me, the peace of mind of knowing that my kids will be well looked after and taken care of (both financially and physically) was well worth the money. It didn’t even take much time — just 2 meetings with a lawyer (the first to hash out the details and the second to sign it). We made sure to get a copy made (we left the original at the lawyer’s office) and let our executors know where to find it. (Tip: Experts advise against putting your will in a safe deposit box as there are strict rules about who is allowed to open it. A better option would be a metal filing cabinet or a fire box somewhere in your home.)

Yes, you should review your will annually, but that doesn’t mean you need to change it all that often.

Reason #5: Providing for your honey

“Common law relationships … are not recognized under the Interstate Succession Act. This means that your significant other may not receive anything from your estate upon your death.”

— Jim Yih, http://www.retirehappy.ca

The quote above speaks for itself. However, as David Chilton points out in The Wealthy Barber, even if you ARE married, your spouse will benefit more from you having a will than if you don’t.  When you don’t have a will, your assets are “divided according to a rigid set of rules…  No thought is given to the … needs of the potential inheritors. For example, even if a surviving spouse needed a great deal of money for medical reasons, the estate would still be allotted according to the rules. The bulk of the estate might be tied up in a government-administered trust until the children reached the age of majority.” (Chilton, 67-8)

Need some more resources? Check out the links below:

12 Consequences if you die without a will

Why every parent needs a will

Or check out this book:
Chilton, David. The Wealthy Barber. Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 1996. — pages 67-70 discuss wills and the importance of having one. You might be able to find it at your local library too.

Action items:

  1. Choose a guardian for your kid(s). If you don’t have a sibling or close friend, you can always appoint one of your parents for now, but know that you will have to rewrite your will in the future as your parents age and predecease you.
  2. Choose someone to manage the money of your estate for your kids. It can be the same person as the guardian, but if you don’t think they’d be good with money (despite being great with kids!) you can choose someone else.
  3. Decide who gets what (ie. where your money & assets are going and if you want to mention any special family heirlooms). You can have it be split equally among people, or specify a certain percentage amount per benefactor (spouse, kids, charity, church/temple, etc.)
  4. Choose an executor (someone responsable for ensuring that your will gets carried out. Experts recommend someone in your generation (or younger), who lives in the same town as you. I say don’t put down your spouse or anyone else who might be too grief-stricken to want to deal with everything.
  5. Ask friends and family for a recommendation for a lawyer. Call and book an appointment.
  6. Get that will written (well, technically it should be typed), dated & signed.
  7. Tell your executor where to find your will. (If you’ve put it in a fire box, let them know where to find the key too!)
  8. Congratulate yourself for looking after future problems before they happen. Celebrate with a glass of wine (or whatever you fancy)!

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Add your inspiration in the comments below.

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