The end of one year and the beginning of another is a good time to reflect, recharge, and take stock. Even if you don’t celebrate the new year January 1st, it is also a good time to feel grateful for what you were able to complete and make resolutions about what you haven’t completed. It may sound trite, but everyone should take the time to do this at least once a year.
In reflecting on the past year and considering what to do next year, take a few minutes and consider what resolutions to make regarding your estate planning. If you don’t have a will and powers of attorney, you should make it a priority to get those documents in place. If you already have these basic documents, here are some resolutions to consider.
Resolution #1: Review Your Plan
If you are like most people, you probably haven’t read your will or powers of attorney since you executed them. So this year, consider making a resolution to take them out and review them early in 2020. Make sure you understand what you have in place, including who you have named as your executors and trustees, attorneys for personal care and property and guardians for minor children, and what you have provided for compensation and the distribution of your estate. If you’re not quite sure what some of the clauses in your will or powers of attorney mean, consider getting in touch with the lawyer who drafted them to set up a call or meeting to discuss them so you do.
Resolution #2: Consider Beneficiary Designations for Insurance and RSPs/RIFs/TFSAs
A complete estate plan should ensure that any life insurance or registered plan proceeds are properly dealt with so that they will pass in the way that you wish. Typically this involves ensuring that beneficiary designations are in place which mirror the provisions of your will, although in some circumstances a different designation may be desired. Income tax implications of registered plans on death need to be considered too. If you have new policies or plans since you last updated your will, or if your estate plan may not have dealt with all of your policies (such as group life insurance) or plans (such as LIFs, which may pass according to provincial pension legislation), those should all be integrated into your estate plan (for more information on life insurance and registered plans, see our advisory on this topic).
Resolution #3: Consider What’s Changed and What Needs Changing
In addition to new life insurance policies or registered plans, there are a variety of changes which may have occurred in your life which could affect your estate plan. Have you gotten married, remarried or separated since you did your will? Have you had a child or another child? How about grandchildren? Are you living or spending significant time with a new partner? Has a family member who you included in your will moved to a different country, become incapable or died? Have you retired or significantly changed your lifestyle? Have you sold or are you thinking of selling your business? Has your financial situation otherwise significantly changed? All of these and other significant life changes may mean that your estate plan should be updated.
Resolution #4: Consider Winding Up or Implementing Trust Planning
If you have a trust currently in place, be aware new trust reporting rules come into effect in 2021 (see our blog on the new rules here). If the trust has been in place for a few years, you may want to consider whether it is coming up on its 21-year anniversary soon, since on that date it will, with certain exceptions, be deemed to have disposed of all of its assets for their fair market value and income tax will then be owing on the capital gains deemed to be realized. There may also be other reasons why the trust that was good planning for you a few years ago is no longer the right structure now. However, on the other hand, in certain circumstances you may want to consider setting up a new trust now. Many personal and tax goals can be effected by means of a trust structure (see our advisory regarding using a trust in your estate plan for a discussion of the potential advantages of trust planning). You should also consider incorporating trusts into your will, or modifying the trusts you have already have in your will to deal with any changes in circumstances of you or your loved ones.
New Year’s resolutions often involve health and wellness. Your estate plan should be considered as part of your total wellness. This year, keep up the “health of your wealth” by making sure your estate plan has kept up with the changes in your life. You may not be able to give your family peace on earth, but you can give them, and yourself, peace of mind regarding your estate.
All the best of the season and for 2020!
The comments offered in this article are meant to be general in nature, are limited to the law of Ontario, Canada, and are not intended to provide legal or tax advice on any individual situation. Before taking any action involving your individual situation, you should seek legal advice to ensure it is appropriate to your personal circumstances.