Estate planning 101

Many people come into my office for a simple transaction, such as swearing an affidavit, and comment on the fact that I do estate planning. They immediately start poking around for advice on what documents they need, how to use them and how much it will cost them. In my opinion, the minimal cost of these documents does not outweigh their value.

What exactly are estate planning documents?

  1. Power of Attorney. This document allows for someone to act on your behalf when you lose capacity. Unfortunately, this can happen at any age. If you are in a car accident over the weekend and remain in a coma for several days or weeks, there will be nobody to look after your financial and legal affairs without this document. This is particularly important for people who own businesses and property.
  2. Representation agreement. Many people know these as “living wills”. They allow for someone to handle your medical decisions if you are incapable of doing so yourself. I have seen the value of these documents first hand, when a family member slowly lost her grip with reality at the hands of Alzheimer’s disease. She had five children and no representation agreement. The children were left to argue over what should have been simple decisions – where to house her, what medications she should receive and whether she should receive aggressive and invasive treatments for a condition that might otherwise take her life.
  3. Will. Almost everyone needs a will. You might be surprised to learn that your spouse does not automatically receive your entire estate upon your death. The law in British Columbia gives your children a fraction of your assets – and you might not like who holds the assets for your children. If you don’t make a will, you don’t have any say in the matter.

Although you probably feel quite confident that your family members would make the appropriate decisions for you when you either lose capacity or die, but it rarely happens this way. Family members get caught up in emotions and make decisions that don’t necessarily meld with what you had in mind. For example, if you want to die with dignity and not be kept alive by artificial means, you need a document that states so. Otherwise, your family, not wanting to lose you, will quite likely hold on to you as long as they can.

If you don’t make a will, the law sets out exactly where your estate goes. You don’t get to give money to charity, the grandkids, the niece that you helped raise. Talk to a lawyer or notary about how to include these people in your estate planning.

This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of Odina Skovgaard Notary Public. For legal advice on estate or property law, please consult with a lawyer or notary public.

Odina Skovgaard is a Notary Public practicing in Peachland, BC and the owner of Odina Skovgaard Notary Public. She holds a bachelor's degree in criminology and a master's degree in applied legal studies, both from Simon Fraser University.

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