Retirement series: Why having a will in place is so important

Without a will, it would be much more difficult to get things done.

Every Saturday morning I drive my son to his piano lesson – a rite of parenthood so to speak as my parents did the same for me when I was growing up. My mother was so excited when I enrolled my son in piano lessons that she bought him a piano the next day.

When I went to pick up my son after his lesson, his teacher told me how tiring the last two weeks had been for her.  Her father had passed away unexpectedly and now her and her brother were trying to get all his affairs sorted out.  She had notified the government to stop CPP and OAS payments but still needed to find his health card to notify the Ministry of Health.  

I asked her if her father had a will and she said they hadn’t found one yet but she didn’t think he had one.  I let her know that it was imperative that they try to find one if it existed. Without it, it would be much more difficult to get things done.

Dying intestate, or without a will, can be costly and time consuming for those you leave behind.  It leaves you no say over who gets your assets and you won’t be able to influence who may look after your dependents. And there may be tax implications.  In other words, you are leaving your life’s work to the government to divide and assets that are distributed to your heirs may be heavily taxed without proper planning.

Without a will, the government will distribute your assets according to a pre-set formula and it will likely take some time until courts appoint an executor, thereby freezing your assets.  Assets that are distributed could be taxed without a proper strategy – generally all assets are liquidated, which may not be what you had intended.  

Division of assets between spouse and children vary by province - even the definition of spouse varies and can impact asset distribution.  Generally, spouses will get all assets if you don’t have any kids.  But if you do have kids, they will likely get a portion.  For example, in Ontario, if you die without a will and have a spouse and 2 children, your spouse will receive $200,000 plus one-third of the value of the estate over $200,000. Your children will each receive one-third of the value of the estate over $200,000.

If you have dependents or have assets that you have earmarked for certain people or charities, having a will in place is a must.  Losing you is bad enough but complicating matters for them to sort out without a will – that’s just adding salt to the wound.