When Leona Dargis’ parents crafted their will, they had two daughters, a couple quarters of land and a few head of cattle. Over the years, their family grew and so did the farm in northeast Alberta.
At the time of their death in a plane crash in 2007, the couple had more than 6,000 acres of land and 3,000 head of cattle. Their will, written in the 1980s, did not reflect that.
As a result, the process of dealing with the estate took six years.
When it comes to succession planning, major life changes have a way of lighting a fire under people.
Edmonton lawyer Kent Wong says he usually hears from people who want to make a will after they lose a loved one or, more often, have a baby.
“Suddenly you have this enormous responsibility to make sure your children are taken care of,” Wong said. “That’s when you start to think of your own mortality and what will happen when you’re eventually gone.”
Wong says people often imagine meeting a lawyer to draft a will will be costly and time consuming.
“That’s not necessarily the case. The more decisions that a person can make ahead of time about their estate and about what they want in the will, the easier it’s going to be for their lawyers to draft their will,” Wong said.
“If you become informed of what you want to do in the will and you’ve given your lawyer clear instructions, wills can range anywhere from about, I would say, $150 or $200 and up.”
Wong recently held a free information session about succession planning and offers these guidelines on Highfield Law Office’s website.
- Make a brief list of the major assets that you own which form part of your estate. Eliminate any items which are held jointly, held in trust, or that constitute life insurance proceeds
- Make a list of all the people you feel you have a moral obligation to take care of in the event of your death
- Decide generally what you want done with your property when you die (ie: leave everything to your spouse and/or children)
- If property is being left to your children, decide how old they must be before they are entitled to that property absolutely. Young children cannot usually manage large sums of money on their own and therefore, such inheritances are usually held in trust for them until they reach a certain age
- Decide if there are any specific gifts you wish to make to particular individuals or organizations (ie: family heirlooms)
- Decide who you would like to appoint to carry out your will when you die. This person will be named as the executor in your will. It is important to ask the person whether he/she is agreeable to being your executor before naming him/her as such in your will. The role of an executor is quite onerous and time consuming and should not be taken lightly. Usually, the first choice is your spouse
- Decide on an alternate executor in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to act when the time comes
- Ensure that the executors you choose live in the same province as yourself. If probate is required, this will eliminate the need for the payment of any bond by the executor. Quite often, the courts will require an out-of-province executor to post a bond in an amount equal to half the value of the estate
- Decide who you would like to take care of your children if you and your spouse should be unable to do so. These people can be named as guardians of the children in your will. Although this wish is not legally binding under the Wills Act, it given tremendous weight by the courts
- Choose a lawyer you are comfortable with and who will take the time to help you plan your estate to carry out your wishes