In Ontario, estate planning refers to the process of deciding what should be done with one's assets after their death.
Estate planning typically requires the advice of a legal and/or financial expert, because the issues involved can be confusing, and are considered by most to be quite important. A flawed estate plan might create conflict between your survivors, resulting in your intentions not being given effect.
In addition to deciding what to do with your assets after your death, your estate plan should also include things that might become relevant during life. Power of attorney is a big one. Power of attorney is an arrangement in which you give another person the ability to make decisions for you, if you become incapacitated. Additionally, effective estate planning can help reduce the effect of taxes and court fees on your final disposition to your chosen beneficiaries.
A knowledgeable estate planner in Ontario, can make this process much easier, minimizing the chances that your estate plan will end up in court, saving your survivors a huge amount of time and money.
Common Features of Ontario Estates
Will: This is a legal document which transfers ownership of the testator's (the person making the will) property to named beneficiaries after the testator's death. The beneficiaries can be just about anyone the testator chooses, but smaller estates, usually only include family members, and maybe very close friends. If you want, you can place conditions on gifts (say, leaving a certain amount of money to your son, but only if he graduates college before he turns 25 - this is just an example). However, a will can't actually compel anyone to do anything, and some conditional gifts won't be enforced, normally because they involve an illegal act, or require a person to marry or refrain from marrying a particular person.
Living Will: Unlike ordinary wills, a living will contains instructions concerning a person's medical care. Some recent high-profile controversies have illustrated the importance of making a living will, even for younger people. In a living will, you can give your family members and doctors instructions about your desired medical care, in case you become incapacitated (comatose or brain-dead, for example) and can't tell them yourself. Some people say that they would not want to be kept alive by artificial means if they are in a vegetative state, and there's no chance of recovery. If this is you, that's definitely something to include in a living will. Of course, if you would prefer the opposite, being kept alive as long as is medically allowed, you can put that in your living will, as well.
Power of Attorney: What if you become incapacitated, and can't make your own decisions? It would be nice if somebody knew what you would want in a given situation, and, on top of that, had the legal authority to make that decision for you. Power of attorney lets you do precisely that, granting a person of your choice the ability to make certain decisions for you, in case you, for whatever reason, can't (you can, of course, control the scope of power that you grant).
Funeral Arrangements: Some people, for religious and other reasons, have very specific wishes concerning the disposal of their remains after they die. Some want to be buried. Others, cremated. No matter what your preferences on this matter are, it's critical that you inform your family of them far in advance. These instructions should be included in a document that is likely to be read before your death (such as a living will), or very shortly thereafter. This excludes a will, because it's frequently weeks after a person dies until their will is read.
Do I Need a Ontario Estates Lawyer?
A knowledgeable estates lawyer in Ontario can make the estate planning process much easier. He or she can maximize the chances of your wishes being given effect. Moreover, a good and clear estate plan is far less likely to result in litigation in the future, since disputes of this nature are almost always the result of ambiguity.