A valid legal will allows you to control what will happen with your property when you pass away. It also allows you to appoint a legal guardian for your minor children and express your wishes respecting funeral arrangements and burial versus cremation.
Most importantly, your will protects your loved ones by ensuring that your Estate is distributed in the way that you want it to be.
Dying Without a Will
Many people do not realize that dying without a will can cause a great deal of hardship to their loved ones. It can also result in people you don't even like receiving money from your Estate.
This is because there are default laws that will apply. In some cases, estranged family members have unjustly inherited estates solely because there was no valid will in place to ensure that the appropriate loved ones were protected.
Common Law Spouses
In Ontario common law spouses do not have any statutory property rights. This means that if you do not make a will naming your common law spouse as a beneficiary they will not be entitled to inherit from your Estate.
Many couples assume that because they have been living together for a certain period of time their common law spouse will automatically inherit.
Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. In order to protect your common law spouse you need a valid legal will.
When you prepare your will a lawyer can advise you on how best to plan your affairs so as to minimize the financial burden on your loved ones. Simple steps such as ensuring joint ownership of accounts and property, naming beneficiaries, etc. can all help to minimize both the financial and emotional burden your loved ones will face.
Living Wills and Powers of Attorney
Living wills, also called Powers of Attorney for Personal Care, are documents that allow you to appoint another person to make health care decisions for you while you are still alive but unable to make these decisions yourself.
Powers of attorney can also be used to manage property. Powers of attorney for property allow a person to step in and manage your financial affairs while you are still alive but unable to do so yourself.
Both of these documents cease to have any legal force when you pass away, and your last will and testament becomes the only document that matters.
Most people have powers of attorney prepared at the same time they prepare their last will and testament. They are simple to prepare and provide peace of mind to both you and your loved ones.
Your Last Wishes
Your will is the place to specify to your executor and loved ones what you want to be done with your bodily remains after you pass away.
Many people have very strong feelings about burial versus cremation. Some people want an elaborate funeral ceremony while others prefer a small private gathering. The only way your executor will know with certainty what you wanted is if you include these instructions in your last will and testament.
Although these wishes are not legally binding on your executor, they are certainly morally binding and will provide your executor and loved ones with comfort, knowing that they handled things the way that you wanted them to be handled.
When these wishes are not properly specified in a will loved ones are left guessing at what you may have wanted. They may feel stressed or guilty about the choices they make for your funeral, burial or cremation without the benefit of your written guidance.
Lawyers can Help
The laws relating to wills and estates can be complicated and vary from province to province in Canada. A lawyer can help to prepare a valid legal will that accurately reflects your wishes while protecting your loved ones.
Wills are not expensive to prepare and are invaluable when it comes to ensuring that the wealth you've worked so hard to accumulate benefits those who matter most to you. All it takes is a decision on your part to follow through with the necessary steps.