Thinking ahead can facilitate the process
Preparing a will is hardly anyone’s idea of a good time, but it’s a vital process for anyone with family or loved ones, and for those with assets—including businesses.
Abbe Chivers, a partner at Manning Elliott who provides accounting, tax, estate planning, and other advisory services to a wide range of owner-managed businesses and their shareholders, believes that thinking about what should go into a will before the process starts will facilitate the entire experience.
Chivers offers five main points to consider before putting pen to paper. “First, who will be your executor(s)? This role can be assigned to a relative, often a spouse or children, a friend, institution, or combination thereof. You should also talk to that person or persons, to be sure they’re willing to take on the role because it carries a lot of responsibility.”
The second point is, identifying the beneficiaries of the estate. Will your estate be divided based on dollars or percentages? Will there be minor beneficiaries, and should they receive their inheritance directly or through a trust?
Debating the need to identify a guardian for one’s minor children is the third point to consider. “This is crucial if you have kids and are thinking of drafting a will,” says Chivers. “Who will look after them in the event of your death? It’s a question that will likely lead to a huge conversation.”
Whether or not to leave a portion of your estate to charity is the next point to consider, and if so, will that be a percentage of your estate or a specified amount, and to which charities do you want to leave a legacy? Again, determining these issues in advance makes the actual drafting of a will a lot easier.
For the fifth main point, Chivers urges will makers to talk to their family before actually drafting the document. “A good, two-way conversation can result in family members providing valuable input. You don’t need to discuss anything in detail, just the gist and intent of the proposed will.”
Another consideration is writing a Letter of Wishes, which is not a legal document. You can include things like how you want to be buried, what kind of service you want, and whether certain assets are to be given outside of the will. Also, if you have special belongings like artwork that you want to give away, consider having your family identify what pieces they would like so that these can be given to the person who would most appreciate the item.”
Another piece of advice is to take the time to inventory all of one’s assets. “It’s much easier to do this when you’re not stressed,” she says. “And it’s not just your assets that should be listed, but their location: is there is a password needed to access things like bank or investment accounts, and if so, where is it? If you have assets in a safety deposit box, which bank is it located in and where is the key? Does someone other than you have signing authority to access the box?”
Finally, getting legal as well as tax advice – especially if property or business shares are involved—is almost imperative. “The bottom line is that numerous issues must be considered before the task of preparing a will gets underway,” concludes Chivers. “Don’t rush the process; initiate conversations; and by all means, call the experts.”
Manning Elliott LLP is one of the province’s largest independent regional accounting and business advisory firms with offices in downtown Vancouver (604-714-3600), Burnaby (604-421-2591), Surrey (604-538-1611), and Abbotsford (1-604-557-5750). The firm has been around for more than 60 years and employs over 200 professionals and staff.
More from Manning Elliott LLP: