Mar 21: More than half of Canadians don’t have a will – and should

March 21, 2024

Having a will is something that we seem to know is very important, yet don’t seem to find the time or money to get rolling on.

According to the CBC, citing research from 2017, “more than half of Canadians don’t have a last will and testament,” with 18 per cent saying they can’t afford one, and five per cent feeling they don’t have time to make one.

Another reason given by some, the article continues, is that they don’t think they have “enough assets to make the process worthwhile.”

But, points out the Savvy New Canadians blog, having a will is very important.

“Thinking of your own mortality can be scary, but death is an inevitable part of life and being prepared is one of the best ways to bring you and your loved ones some financial peace of mind,” the blog advises.

The blog offers five key reasons why we should get a will done:

  • A will “protects your financial assets and investments.”
  • It “ensures your relationships are recognized,” meaning it sets out who you want to inherit your money and possessions, instead of leaving it up to the government to figure out.
  • It “guarantees a plan” for any minor children.
  • While there is no estate tax in Canada, having a will can help minimize “estate administration taxes,” such as your final income tax returns and, in some cases, a probate fee.
  • It lets you leave “legacy gifts” to charities or non-profit organizations.

Writing for Waterloo News, published by the University of Waterloo, estate planning lawyer Keith Masterman talks about the problems that can crop up when someone dies without a will.

“If you die without a will, you are said to die intestate. The ramification can be dire. You do not choose your beneficiaries; your estate will be distributed according to a government scheme. The scheme is set out in provincial legislation and what your loved one will receive depend on the province where you reside,” he warns.

As an example, he notes that “in all provinces, a surviving spouse will inherit at least a portion of an intestate estate,” but what they get depend on what province they live in.

“British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Nunavut and The Northwest Territories all recognize a common-law partner as a spouse. In the other provinces—Manitoba, Ontario, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Yukon—only a married survivor is recognized as a spouse,” he writes.

This can be complicated for those of us who marry, separate, and then live common-law with a new partner, he explains. Depending on where the individuals involved live, the common-law partner might be disinherited if their partner dies without a will, notes Masterman.

While most think getting a will is prohibitively expensive, the CBC article suggests that it doesn’t always have to be.

“These days, we have more and arguably easier options than ever before when it comes to will preparation: will and estate lawyers, businesses that offer fixed prices on lawyer-provided services, will kits, will-preparation sites and even DIY legal forms that are available for free online,” the CBC suggests.

So, what’s involved in doing up a will?

According to Canadian Living, you need to have an executor in mind, someone who “carries out the directives in the will, making sure whatever you decided upon happens.” It’s typical, the magazine reports, for “a trusted friend or relative” to be chosen as executor, or a lawyer.

You also need to appoint people who can act on your behalf if, in the future, illness or injury prevents you from making decisions. One such “power of attorney” should be appointed/named to look after your finances, and another for your health. The article says it is typical for two different people to be picked for these roles.

If you have young kids under 18, Canadian Living notes that a will can be used to “name a guardian” for your kids. Without this guardianship being set out in a will, it would be up to the courts to decide where your kids will live.

As for divvying up your estate, “if you don’t have a will, the government will decide who gets what,” the article advises. “In most cases, the surviving spouse inherits the first $200,000 of an estate and the rest would be split between living parents and children,” the article adds.

Other advice from Canadian Living includes the fact that “only an original will” is valid – not a photocopy, and that once you do your will, you should update it after “any major live event, such as divorce, death, birth, or change to your economic status.”

While getting a will done can by a lawyer can costs hundreds of dollars, and up to $1,000 if you have a complicated situation, Canadian Living concludes that “whatever the cost, it’s worth it. You don’t want a judge deciding your estate’s fate.”

Just as having a will is important, so too is saving for retirement. Not many of us have a retirement savings program at work. If you’re saving on your own for retirement and have some registered retirement savings plan room, why not kick the tires on the Saskatchewan Pension Plan?

SPP can be a do-it-yourself retirement savings for you. You decide how much to contribute, and SPP does the rest – investing your contributions in a professionally managed, low-cost pooled fund. And when it’s time to retire, you can choose such options as a lifetime monthly SPP annuity payment, or the Variable Benefit, where you decide how much to take out, and when! Check out SPP today!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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