COVID-19 has spread rapidly and turned life upside down for many Canadians. The future is uncertain, and people are understandably nervous for what it might bring. The unpredictability of the future has wills and estates lawyers stressing the importance of estate planning now more than ever. People simply are not prepared for the implications of a global pandemic and the potential fallout from not having a will, power of attorney, and personal directive in place.
The implications of failing to have estate planning documents in place can be critical. In some instances, loved ones will be put in a position where emergency court applications need to be heard to determine healthcare decisions. In others, families will engage in legal battles over the contents of a dated will. To top it all off, the court system will be flooded as a result of the COVID-19 closure. In short, the benefits of forward-thinking preparation far outweigh the current inconvenience.
Although we are cautiously optimistic about flattening the curve with social distancing, many Canadians find themselves in a position where they have some extra time on their hands. Now is a good time to take action and address/ review their estate plans.
In doing so, here are a few important things to keep in mind:
- If you are over the age of 18 and own any assets, you should have a will;
- Wills need to be reviewed over time to ensure they still accurately reflect your estate plan. One example is that the executor of the will may need to be changed as they are no longer appropriate due to a change in life circumstances;
- Wills must be updated following a separation or divorce. Although the legislation dictates that an ex-spouse is not permitted to act as executor or trustee and will not receive any gift under the will, the estate should be re-drafted in contemplation of the breakdown of the relationship. For example, a new trustee or executor should be named and the estate should be re-allocated to new beneficiaries;
- Wills should be updated following big life events, such as marriage or having children. If a will is not drafted “in contemplation of marriage” it becomes void upon marriage. Further, there are many importance factors, such as guardianship and inheritance, that need to be addressed when children are involved;
- A power of attorney appoints an individual to manage your property when you are still alive, but incapable of making decisions. This person is able to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf; and
- A personal directive appoints an agent to make decisions about your person when you are still alive, but incapable of making decisions. These decisions relate most often to healthcare, but can also include decisions about accommodation and who you live with.
In light of the current global pandemic, wills and estates lawyers are implementing creative options for people to update or create their estate plans primarily from home. Now is the time to reach out, and while we hope for the best, we should all prepare for the worst.