Estate planning – is now a good time?

By Jidé Afolabi

You are probably reading this at home, maybe on a weekday, observing physical distancing, doing your part to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections that have taken the world by storm. You are perhaps uncertain about both the present and the future.

Much has changed for the world and for Canadians over the last few months. We have all had to make drastic adjustments and face a reality most of us have never contemplated before. Adjustments have included working from home, with a heavy reliance on video conferencing solutions.

For estate lawyers, the past few months have resulted in an uptick in inquiries as clients seek to establish or update estate plans. Many have had to figure out how to engage without in-person meetings and paper questionnaires.

Still, for every person who has decided to pursue an estate plan, there are many for whom the issue remains out of mind. An oft-quoted statistic is that as many as half of Canadians have never really contemplated their estates comprehensively and don’t have wills, powers of attorney or trust documents in place. There are many plausible reasons for this state of affairs, ranging from a reluctance to talk about one’s demise to a lack of time to sit and fully contemplate. The global pandemic may have jolted this state of affairs, but it most likely has not upended it.

Whatever the reasons, there are five things Canadians without estate plans should consider as we all remain physically distant.

First, an estate plan is not really about the person setting up the plan. This is rather obvious. Most of us will hopefully survive this pandemic and go on to live very long lives. Even then, the end of life, no matter how near or far, remains certain. For those with loved ones, an estate plan is part of the expression of that love. It ensures that loved ones left behind are provided for in ways that suit or address their vulnerabilities, life circumstances, temperaments, hopes and ambitions.

Second, while there is never really a perfect time to contemplate the end of life, there is never really an imperfect time to provide for the future of loved ones. A good estate plan hugs the contours of life, dipping and cresting as time is marked. It may at times inform decisions about assets to acquire or dispose of; at other times, it might inform the need to alter or replace one’s will. The objective, at all times, is securing the future.

Third, setting up an estate plan will in almost all cases be cheaper than the consequence of not having one. Dying without a will can have a myriad of unintended consequences. For example, the estate of the deceased could end up in the hands of unintended beneficiaries, such as an estranged spouse in a marriage that is yet to be dissolved; the common-law spouse of a deceased person is entitled to nothing, unless it is spelled out in a will. There are also probate fees – essentially estate taxes – which can reduce the value of an estate.

Fourth, planning an estate need not be intimidating. With the guidance of an estate lawyer, as well as a financial planner and accountant if circumstances warrant, a plan can be put together with a minimum of fuss, and it can be communicated in a clear and concise manner in order to be easily altered if life changes occur. With the law properly applied to the will drafting process, one can be assured that it will not result in unintended consequences.

Finally, in these strange and vulnerable times, a technologically adroit law practice can put together an estate plan without a face-to-face encounter. With consultations booked online and done by video conferencing, personal safety need not be compromised as the important questions concerning the future of loved ones are contemplated.

Jidé Afolabi is the principal lawyer at Afolabi: Wills | Estates | Trusts (afolabilaw.com). He is a former candidate for Capital Ward city councillor and lives in Ottawa.

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