The purpose of this column is NOT to advise people on their legal affairs or concerns, but to provide basic information for discussion with their own legal counsel.
Written by Ruth Magnusson, Lawyer, Straith and Company
Clients sometimes ask when they should review their wills. You have likely heard the “general rule,” which is to review your will every five years. But in fact, wills might need to be reviewed more often. Also, I have sometimes probated wills that are twenty-five years old, without difficulty.
Following is a summary of circumstances or events which mean you should review your will:
- birth of a first child
- separation or divorce
- death of a spouse, child or grandchild
- when contemplating marriage
- long term illness or disability of a beneficiary
- changes in financial circumstances
- loans or gifts to a child which need to be taken into account when you distribute your estate
- if assets are held in an unusual way (for example if you hold title to property for someone else)
- change of residence to a new province or country
- if you acquire property in another country
- death of an executor, trustee or guardian
- change in suitability of chosen executor, trustee or guardian
- changes in income tax or probate laws
Special cases require special planning. For example if you intend to disinherit a spouse or child, you need to consider how your estate can be set up to minimize the potential for a successful lawsuit by the spouse or child. If your estate includes real property or an investment portfolio of significant value, you may wish to consider setting up a trust to avoid probate fees.
If you are interested in making significant charitable bequests, you may wish to consider how to obtain the greatest tax advantage upon your death, or during your lifetime. Many of you will have heard of charitable annuities or charitable remainder trusts for philanthropic testators.
It is important to realize that your lawyer cannot and will not undertake to inform you about changes in the laws. Laws governing the preparation of wills have remained quite constant over the years, but laws governing estates and disputes about estates are constantly changing.
By Ruth Magnusson, Legal Considerations in Caregiving in “Network News”, Vol. 15/No. 3, September 2001