Five tips to achieve the best estate planning

The more you spell out your wishes, the more likely they'll be executed when you're gone

Five tips to achieve the best estate planning

One of the most important things you can do for your loved ones when you’re creating a financial plan with your financial advisor is to create an estate plan with it to manage your property and possessions when you die. This isn’t just for rich people because everyone has property or possessions to distribute, and you want to ensure that your hard-earned money goes to those who value it – and the government doesn’t decide what happens to it.

This primer offers five tips to help you avoid the most common estate planning mistakes.

  1. Create a will: Your estate includes all your assets – everything you have that has any financial or other value – as well as your debts. If you die without leaving a will, the provincial government’s laws decide who your executor is and how your estate will be distributed.  The laws vary across the provinces, but don’t generally take special family circumstances into consideration. You can avoid that by writing a will.
  2. Get help to create your will: You should get help to create a will rather than do it yourself. You can ask family and friends, or check your provincial law society to get the name of a lawyer, or you can use an online service like  The more complicated your financial affairs, the more you should seek personalized help to ensure everything is in order. Don’t scrimp by “doing-it- yourself” because what you don’t know could cause headaches for your loved ones after you die.
  3. Line up your supporting cast:
    • Name an executor: When you write a will, you need to name two people – your primary and secondary executors – who will carry out the wishes you spell out in your will.  These should be people you trust to do the job, but also people whom you’ve asked whether they have the time and willingness to do it – because, if they refuse after you die, the government will have to name someone else.
    • Name a power of attorney (POA): Having a will is important, but doesn’t cover every situation. So, you should also name someone as your power of attorney, who will execute your wishes if you’re still alive and cannot do that. It can also be important if have jointly-owned property or business.
    • Name a health care proxy: When you’re doing your estate planning, you should also name someone to be your proxy if you end up incapacitated rather than dead. That can happen if you have a serious accident or develop a terminal illness and can’t continue your regular financial transactions.

      In all of these cases, you should pick someone whom you trust, then ask if they are willing to do the job because it can be very time-consuming. If you just name someone without asking and they refuse after you’ve died or become incapacitated, then the government must find a replacement for them. But, if they agree, you should go over your wishes with them, so they don’t have any questions, and ensure you’ve provided them with the support they need to do what you’re asking them.
  4. Be specific:  The more specific you can be in your will, the easier it will be for your supportive personnel to carry out your wishes. Ensure that you leave the details for your accounts, security box, assets, debts, and income taxes.  You may want to work with your advisor, accountant, and lawyer to ensure you’ve covered everything, including how much money could be left after income taxes.

    Include specific instructions: Many people will leave their estates to their spouses without any restrictions to ensure that they can maintain their lifestyle. But, once spouses – or other beneficiaries – receive that inheritance, they are under no obligation to pass it on to the deceased’s children, grandchildren, or others. So, if you have specific directions for that, you should include those. Also, if you’re leaving money for children, or other young people – such as when parents die – you may want to leave the money in trust to ensure that it is used for your wishes. This could include education or other specifics, such as care for a disabled adult child. 
  5. Update your will after every major life change: While many Canadians don’t have wills, others have wills they wrote years ago, but haven’t updated. You should do that when you marry, separate, divorce, lose a child or gain more, or have some other major life change. The more up-to-date your will is in addressing your life circumstances, the easier it will be for your supportive personnel to execute it.