7 Steps to Getting your Will Done

by Angus Bickerton, Family Lawyer and Mediator

With the holiday season behind us and a new year just underway, perhaps you are looking a list of resolutions: getting in shape, eating better, dumping a bad habit, or handling your finances better. If the last is on your list, one of the easiest first steps to financial health is making sure that you have a will and powers of attorney. It is the second step in David Chilton’s bestselling financial self-help guide The Wealthy Barber. Having an updated will and powers of attorney, prepared by a lawyer, is some of the best insurance that you can buy to protect your family. The fact is, none of us want to think about dying, or becoming mentally incapacitated, but tragedies happen every day, and leaving your family without a plan is not an option. So, how do you start?

  1. Phone your lawyer and make an appointment. This is a necessary first step, and your lawyer will likely give you a list of things to do in preparation for your appointment so that you can be as efficient and informed as possible.
  2. Do your homework before your appointment. Think about what your family tree looks like and how it functions: children, grandchildren, stepchildren, brothers, sisters, etc.? Do you have a blended family? Are you separated? Do you pay child or spousal support? The answers to these questions impact how the will should be drafted, so your lawyer will need to know. Think about who you want to look after your estate if you die (your Estate Trustee/Executor), and think of alternate choices for that position. Spouses usually choose each other, but who will do it if both you and your spouse are not around? Who are your dependents? Who will be the guardian of your minor children, and do you and your spouse agree on the guardian? Do you have an adult dependent child or adult children who are still being educated? What are the special circumstances of your family? What charities do you want to support, if any? Every family is different, and this needs to be considered in the planning process for your will. Expect a lot of questions from your lawyer.
  3. Who do you want to make decisions for you if you lose mental capacity? There are two powers of attorney: the Continuing Power of Attorney for Property, and the Power of Attorney for Personal Care. You may wish to have different decision-makers on each one, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Are there any directives regarding your personal care that you wish to be made known to your attorney? What are your wishes regarding life support and medical intervention in the event of catastrophic illness or injury?
  4. List your assets and your debts. This will assist your lawyer in advising you to manage your assets in a manner that makes the transfer after death easiest and with a minimum of tax impacts.
  5. What other experts do you need to consult? Lawyers work hand in hand with other experts, like insurance brokers, accountants and banking professionals. An important part of your estate plan is minimizing tax consequences and ensuring that the needs of your dependents are met. A life insurance broker can help you identify the level of life insurance you require to support your family, or any child or spousal support obligations that might be a burden on your estate in the event of an untimely death.
  6. If you already have a will, how old is it? Have there been any significant changes in your family since it was done? Any weddings, births, deaths, divorces, or children who have become adults? Anyone of these is enough to significantly impact the way your old will operates, so it will be time to update it.
  7. Don’t even think about the DIY will kits! Wills and powers of attorney are powerful, important documents that allow someone else to make decisions for you about your property, money and your medical treatment and long-term care. They require expertise and training to draft properly to fit your family’s circumstances. Every year, we see the tragic consequences that arise from people trying to save a little cash on their wills by buying a do-it-yourself will kit, and their estates end up paying tens of thousands of dollars in litigation fees and/or horrible tax consequences. The old adage is true: you get what you pay for.

Finally, don’t put it off any longer. The worst law that applies when you die without a will or are incapacitated without a power of attorney, is the law of unintended consequences. Significant legal fees for court applications, severe tax consequences, and parts of your estate going to people you may not even know are all very real possibilities if you don’t get your will and powers of attorney done. As a lawyer focused on family issues, including estate planning, Angus Bickerton provides you with the legal advice you need to help you make the best decisions for yourself and for your loved ones. Looking at your estate plan is not a morbid task, it is an important part of looking after your family.

Angus Bickerton is a family lawyer and mediator, practicing Family Law, Mediation, Real Estate, Will and Estate Planning, and Estates Administration. If you have any questions, please contact me at this private secure contact form, or via any of the following:

Angus Bickerton