Where There’s a Will (and an enduring power of attorney drafted and signed in the correct provincial jurisdiction), There’s a…

So, I’m taking a stab at my own brand of motivational content, and I’m hoping it’ll leave you totally pumped. Rest assured, there will be no references to faster, higher or stronger. Rather, we’re going to get fired up about tackling the Easiest-Part-of-Your-Finances-To-Put-Off-Addressing-Forever: drum roll, please…your will!

Stay with me here.

If your estate planning documents represent a ‘development area’ for you, understand I’m not proposing we address them as we enter the holiday season—I’m not that delusional. No, my goal is we plant the seed now and you enjoy some delicious procrastination over the holidays. Then, when January hits, you spring into action energized by your standard-issue newly-purchased gym membership and 30-day detox cleanse commitment, where you subside on nothing but cayenne pepper, lemon juice and headaches. Contemplation of your demise is a natural fit here.

My hope is that by March you are signing some meaningful documents of which your will is one (the other is probably the cancellation of the gym membership, which coincidentally requires just as many pages and signatures as a will, plus a healthy dose of shame—I did it last year). Onwards!

Not convinced? Consider this:

  • If you don’t have a will, really you do, it’s just that it has been drafted by the government and will be administered by them…for a fee. Vegas says the government’s asset distribution flow chart doesn’t jive with your baseline intentions. At a minimum, it’s probably worth you and your net worth knowing how it’s going to play out.
  • Your estate planning documents will cost about $1,000+ to put in place. If this is a hurdle, you need to get over it—think of it as the price of admission for anyone who is burdened with meaningful financial assets and people and/or causes they love. Be grateful; there are people lined up wanting your problem.
  • In the event there are people in your life you really dislike, don’t forget that in British Columbia a will can be contested by anyone. Lawyers are standing by, which leads to my next point…
  • A Do-It-Yourself Will Kit from the drug store is probably not the answer if you have meaningful assets with even a hint of complexity. I used to refer wills to a now-retired lawyer who was an estate litigator as well. In my mind, he spent his mornings in court decimating poorly drafted wills, and in the afternoon he drafted wills using his knowledge of what made a will capable of withstanding the rigors of attack from unhappy beneficiaries, or people aspiring to be beneficiaries.
  • A word about lawyers. As it turns out, some people aren’t fans. A well-heeled individual I knew despised lawyers, and “cut them out” by writing their will on a napkin and having it witnessed by a realtor. Not exactly iron clad estate planning, or put another way, dumb. After they passed away, chaos ensued amongst their numerous beneficiaries and the “despised” lawyers’ billings were a multiple of what they could have been. For a lawyer, doing a will is almost a lost leader, while litigating a contested estate (often due to a poorly drafted will) is where the big billings reside. In terms of pure cash outlay, wills and fancy trusts are dirt cheap relative to the alternative.
  • Almost everyone starts the will planning exercise with the assumption that their circumstances and intentions “are simple.” Often, contemplation of where assets go when a couple dies at the same time is where strong opinions surface. Fair, but not necessarily equal, distribution of wealth amongst kids is a beauty if you’re ever looking to make conversation. Implications of adult children marrying less than ideal spouses is another one.

As a financial advisor, I don’t draft wills—lawyers do that. However, I do speak with clients extensively about their lives and their money, which gives me good insight into what the will and/or trust should include, or whether one even exists. Armed with this insight, I keep it on meeting agendas until it’s signed and sealed. That’s right, I’m a well-intentioned estate planning bully. Wealth management without attention to estate planning is incomplete. The lawyer will happily help you, but getting yourself in front of them voluntarily can be a bit of a trick.

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