Most people in Toronto have preferences about what should be done with their property after they die. This is why the process of estate planning exists - it allows people to make a broad range of decisions related to this issue.
Estate planning usually requires professional legal and financial advice, because of the complexity and importance of the issues involved. A poorly-executed estate plan can often end with survivors suing each other, and prevent your intentions from being effectuated.
In the process of estate planning, you'll probably also deal with issues that can affect you during life. These include issues like power of attorney (to ensure that your wishes are carried out even if you're unable to express them), as well as instructions to your doctors and family concerning medical care. A good estate planner can also help you achieve your goals, while minimizing the effects of expenses like court fees and taxes.
If you want to maximize the odds that your wishes will be followed after your death, you should do everything you can to make them legally binding. While this is not always possible, a Toronto attorney will be able to make sure that, where it is allowed, it is done.
Common Features of Toronto 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, typically because they involve an illegal act, or require a person to marry or refrain from marrying a specific person.
Living Will: This is a document which lays out instructions for your medical care, should you become so sick or badly injured that you are unable to express your wishes. It should state under what circumstances you want to remain on life support. A well-drafted living will can prevent you from being kept alive in a permanent vegetative state (if that is not what you want), while ensuring that you receive medical care as long as you have a chance at recovery.
Power of Attorney: Power of attorney, while important, is not to be used lightly. This is because it involves granting someone else the power to make legally-binding decisions on your behalf. Usually, your spouse will automatically have power of attorney if you become incapacitated. If you are not married, however, you need to make a document explicitly granting that authority to someone you trust (a life partner or close family member, for instance).
Funeral Arrangements: If you have any strong preferences regarding the disposition of your physical remains, you should make them known to your family early, and should not include funeral instructions in your will. Wills are often read weeks after the testator dies, so in most cases, it will be too late by then.
Do I Need a Toronto Estates Lawyer?
A poorly drafted or executed Toronto estate plan can have major negative consequences. For example, it might be confusing to the people who are most directly affected by it. This confusion can often lead to costly litigation. For that reason, the help of an experienced estate planning attorney can be invaluable.