Deciding on how one’s assets will be distributed upon death is the ultimate house-cleaning chore. The process is daunting – one has to face questions such as Who Do You Love and What Do You Love? One then may have to match the answers to these questions with those of one’s spouse. The proliferation of blended families nowadays further complicates these answers. Differences of opinion, and a process of negotiation, inevitably must follow. Then, typically, one also has to get involved with a lawyer. The product of that process is a draft Will, with a combination of common, understandable language and legal jargon. Too often, the Will-drafter’s eyes glaze over when reviewing the document. However, it is extremely important that the Will reflects the individual’s wishes and steers a safe course through estate legislation.

Many financial advisors encourage people to create joint tenancy title to various assets, such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts or family homes. Also, RRSP, RRIF and TFSA accounts have the opportunity to create a direct beneficiary designation. Both of these estate strategies cause those assets to be transferred outside the Will. The most common reasons for doing this include legally dodging probate fees in the Will and facilitation of the transfer process to the beneficiary. It is extremely important to be cognizant of what estate planning strategies you have executed, perhaps unwittingly. If you have executed the strategies noted above, then, in the extreme case, you may have absolutely no assets governed by your will. Thus, those residue or specific beneficiaries that you lovingly have named in your Will ultimately may be entitled to absolutely nothing!

We have found that an “Estate Map” often is useful to bring clarity to the directions in your estate planning wishes, for the benefit of the testator, the trustee and the beneficiaries alike. Sometimes, errors in drafting or in planning are flushed out, thanks to this simple, graphical representation.

Article published Sep 2011