Canada | Personal Finance

Wills a necessity for everyone (including those in couples), expert says

Here are several documents you should put in place to secure your financial future—no matter what your marital status is

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Hands Of Lawyer Writing While Discussing With Clients On Desk In OfficeFrom a legal perspective, a will is by far the most important document that anyone—whether married, common-law or single—needs to put in place (Getty Images/Pattanaphong Khuankaew/EyeEm)

While money can be a difficult subject for couples to discuss—especially if they are wildly different in their spending styles—there are nevertheless several documents they need to put in place if they want to secure their financial future. And the sooner they take action, the better, says Clark Craig, a lawyer and certified financial planner in Burlington, Ont. “Ideally, you should look after these items as soon as you have made a commitment to each other,” he says. 

GET A WILL

From a legal perspective, a will is by far the most important document that anyone—whether married, common-law or single—needs to put in place, says Craig. “There’s a very common misconception is that it’s not necessary to have a will if you have only limited assets,” he says. “But in reality, even the smallest of estates can create major issues if you don’t have a will, no matter how simple it might be.” 

A will becomes even more critical once you have children, says Craig. “Having a will allows you to set up proper trusts for your children and to make sure the money will be administered in accordance with your wishes,” he says. “If you die intestate (without a will), the government (through the Children’s Lawyers’ Office) will end up controlling the finances and upbringing of your children.’’ 

PUT POWERS OF ATTORNEY IN PLACE

It’s also essential to have powers of attorney for personal care and property. The latter is especially important, because it offers protection if one of the partners becomes disabled.

“No one, not even a spouse, has any signing authority over another person’s property and personal finances,” says Craig. “But if you have a power of attorney in place, one of the spouses can take over if necessary.” 

LOOK AT LIFE INSURANCE 

Very early in their committed relationship, couples should also look at life insurance, says Craig. 

“Obviously, the earlier you take out a life insurance policy, the lower the premiums are going to be,” he says. “Most couples would probably just consider term insurance—i.e., you pay the premium and if you die within the period of time (term) covered by the policy, your estate collects the payout. If you don’t, your insurance ultimately lapses. There is no savings aspect to it at all. The premiums are fairly low and most policies offer guaranteed renewal. That way you can ensure you will be able to get insurance later on should you develop health issues.” 

Craig adds that most people “drastically underinsure” because they don’t realize that they are actually insuring their partner’s income plus additional expenses. “It’s important to understand that if your partner dies and you have a young family, you’ll need to replace your partner’s income for 15 to 20 years. That could easily add up to $1 million. The premiums for that type of insurance are relatively modest when you’re young, but if you are looking at insurance as any part of a savings plan you really need to get advice from an insurance agent, because there are many different kinds of policies.”

SECURE YOUR DOCUMENTS

Once your documents are signed, leave them in a safe place. Many law offices will store your original wills and powers of attorney for you. If you keep the originals and store them at home, make sure that they are protected (preferably in a fireproof cabinet) and make sure both partners are aware of their location. It’s also a good idea to save scans on a USB along with PIN numbers for important accounts, and make sure both partners know where it is. 

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

For other topics couples need to talk about, see Couples and money: 6 topics to discuss.

CPA Canada also has a wealth of financial literacy resources that can help you make more informed decisions about your money.