For many Canadians, the pandemic has changed a few aspects related to how we live our day-to-day lives – and how we plan for the future is no exception.
Since the onset of the pandemic, COVID-19 has caused many Canadians to think more about emergency preparedness, including updating their will, according to Kevin Moffatt, Vice President, Canadian Personal Banking Business Management & Governance and the TD 'Seniors' Champion', (a designated member of the Bank's management team promoting seniors' interests).
"The challenges and uncertainty of the last 18 months has brought to light for many Canadians how out of date their wills and other estate planning documents may be, or that they may not have a plan at all," Moffatt said.
"We're seeing more and more customers thinking about retirement and having these documents in order can help ease the burden on all involved should anything unexpected happen to you."
Regardless of the reasons a person may have to update their will — for those interested in making sure their will and estate plans are up to date, Nairika Varza, a tax and estate planner with TD Wealth in Vancouver, B.C., shares a simple step-by-step checklist:
Step 1: Review your existing documents and arrangements
One of the first things you should do when reviewing your will is to look at the documents you have and ensure they reflect your current circumstances or wishes, Varza said.
For example, if someone made a will before they had children and now their children are grown adults or have children of their own, any decisions about how financial assets and personal property are distributed to those children or grandchildren may need to be updated, Varza said.
"It takes a little work, but having the right will can provide tremendous peace of mind for individuals and their families,” Varza said.
Another item that may need updating in an older will is that the people entrusted to make decisions on someone's behalf – principally an executor (called a liquidator in Quebec), who is the legal representative responsible for carrying out the directions in a will – may no longer be the right choice today.
“Keep in mind that the representatives you selected many years ago are aging along with you,” Varza said.
"Their suitability, circumstances, and willingness to act on your behalf should be checked and reconfirmed."
Step 2: Clarify your goals and wishes
A will is a document you may use to set out how you'd would like your property to be distributed in the event of your death, and who you’d like to entrust with making sure that your wishes are carried out.
A will reflects your plans for your possessions and property, whether they have sentimental or financial value, or both; and your preferences for a funeral, burial, cremation or other options.
The process of making these decisions can be complex and emotionally demanding for executors, Varza said.
For example, decisions about family assets such as a camp or cottage may need to be made amongst family members who may have very different – even opposing – preferences for the future of that asset. Or, you may have a family business that you need to plan for.
Varza said for these reasons, working with a trusted professional to guide you through the process of making these decisions can be beneficial.
“A professional's goal is to bring a breadth of knowledge and insight to help educate clients about how to make the decisions that are right for them,” said Varza.
"And this way those left behind don't have the added work of trying to navigate these important decisions at a highly emotional time."
Varza said you can also consider appointing a Trust Company as your executor, which then acts as a trustee to oversee the administration of your estate. Some people might choose to appoint a Trust Company when they don't want to give the responsibility of executing the will on their family or friends, or when they don't have a suitable candidate.
Step 3: Put your new documents in place
Once a previous will has been reviewed and decisions have been made that reflect current wishes and the allocation of your assets, whether at your death or while you are alive, the next step is to document any changes and implement the changes with the help of a lawyer.
“Once the clients have undergone the planning process with me, implementing their decisions can be the easiest step,” said Varza.
"Implementing your decisions involves documenting all of the thinking you’ve already done to flesh out your wishes and the discussions you've had about your wishes with your partner and family members. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that circumstances are truly out of our control."
Varza said she typically warns clients about the unpredictability of aging, such as how a possible loss of capacity, unexpected illness, or untimely death may leave them unable to change their testamentary documents to reflect their wishes.
"Even I had never imagined the devastating and unpredictable effects of a pandemic," she said.
"So, while many of us don’t like to think about it, it's wise to act today while we are able and capable of doing so.”
For more information about TD services related to wills and estate planning, please visit the TD Estate Planning and Settlement Advice page here for some answers to common questions, and a glossary of estate-related terms.