At the time of writing this article I was procrastinating, er, um, creatively dreaming up the next topic when I happened upon a news article. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died at the age of 76 and she did not leave a will. Her four sons and other family members are thus left to find out how much the Queen of Soul was worth, and to divide it up. The process could take years and is likely to play out in public. The estate is estimated to be worth $80 million.
When asked why she didn’t have a will her lawyer of 28 years gave the following explanation:
” I tried to convince her that she should do not just a will, but a trust while she is alive,” Wilson said. “She never told me ‘No, I don’t want to do one.’ She understood the need. It just didn’t seem to be something she go around to.” (Source: Entertainment Tonight)
In Ontario, if you die without a will, the law says that you have died “interstate,” which means that you left no instructions as to how your property is to be divided and distributed. In these circumstances the Ontario Succession Law Reform Act governs how your property will be distributed to your surviving relatives, i.e. the government sorts it out. Not sure about you but I would rather Mr. Ford and his friends don’t go rooting through my private information to determine what should be done.
Perhaps your estate isn’t worth $80 million plus, but regardless, perhaps you should have a will. According to CTV News most Canadians (51%) don’t have a current, valid will). Why? The number one answer given: “I haven’t gotten around to it.”
What is “current” and “valid” anyway?
There is some debate over what current means. Arguably, a will more than five year old is no longer current. It is arguably not current if a major life event has happened such as marriage, birth, divorce etc.
What about valid? In many instances, a marriage makes a will invalid, although there are of course exceptions. But there are other ways a will could be argues to be invalid. Poor mental health is a classic example.
My advice is to sit down with your loved ones and figure out what you want done. You. Not some government bureaucrat. Did you know that under the law in Ontario your executor is personally liable for up to four years after filing your estate? Does your executor know that? Have you made provisions?
Did you also know that not all your investments are part of your estate? It is, of course, possible to gift assets before death. But after death you can’t do as easily. However, both life insurance and segregated funds are not part of the estate and are paid directly to the named beneficiary, thus avoiding probate and this is also private. The contents of your will are public.
As always, consult a professional and make a plan. Your estate deserves a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
This article is part of a monthly series of investment and insurance advice featured in Hespeler Village Magazine. The write of these articles, David Reeve, is President of Davlyn Financial a local, award-winning financial planning firm in Cambridge.