Estate Planning in Ontario: Understanding the Basics to Get You Started
Estate Planning in Ontario? Here’s Where to Start.
Simply deciding that it’s time to plan your estate can bring you one step closer to protecting your loved ones after your death.
But it’s not always easy to come to such a decision, let alone start the process. Many will recognize the importance of estate planning, but hesitate to actually begin. Worse, some start researching and quickly feel overwhelmed and confused.
These scenarios are all too common. We’re here to take some of these roadblocks out of your way and help you make meaningful progress toward completing this important life step!
To help you get started, read on and find answers to some of the most common questions from those starting the estate planning process, and discover links to more resources on the Epilogue Wills Blog.
What is the Estate Planning Process in Ontario?
Maybe you know that you need to get around to “planning your estate,” but you don’t know what that actually entails. Let’s break it down.
A significant part of estate planning includes determining how your assets will be preserved, managed and distributed after your death or, in the event that you become incapacitated, appointing someone to manage your assets on your behalf.
These assets may include:
Real estate: Homes, buildings and land
Wealth: Cash, money in bank accounts and investments
Intellectual property: Copyrights, patents and trademarks
Family heirlooms and personal belongings: Sentimental items, cars, pets, jewelry, clothing, furniture, artwork, etc.
Digital assets: Online accounts, domains, cryptocurrency and more.
There’s no doubt that arranging for the distribution of your assets is important; it allows you to ensure that your loved ones receive your most precious belongings, and it even helps minimize the fees and taxes they may encounter once you’re gone. It also allows you to establish a trusted guardian for your dependents, and ensure that your pets are taken care of by a loved one.
Is Estate Planning the Same as a Will?
It’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that you’ll need to write a Last Will and Testament (commonly just called a “Will”) —it’s just a part of life like any other. But what you might not know is that writing a Will isn’t the only important part of estate planning. There are a few additional steps you can take to better protect your assets and your loved ones after your death.
Here are some of the things you’ll want to consider when creating a comprehensive estate plan:
Powers of Attorney
Powers of Attorney (POAs) are legal documents that let you appoint someone else to make decisions on your behalf regarding your health and/or finances. Powers of Attorney are for situations where you’re alive but not mentally capable of making decisions for yourself. Incapacity could be the result of an accident, illness, or as a result of a gradual, age-related decrease in your mental abilities.
When it comes to decisions relating to your health, you have the ability to state your wishes for medical treatment, including treatments used to keep you alive, pain management, organ donation and more. It can help assure you that medical professionals will follow your wishes and it can help your family avoid making difficult decisions without knowing what you want.
A written document outlining your desired final arrangements is not legally-binding, but it can help comfort those you are leaving behind. You can include your preferences for your final resting place and funeral, or add other details pertaining to your desired final arrangements.
A Life Insurance Policy
Consider if life insurance is right for you; it may be able to help your loved ones manage the financial impact of your death. Your beneficiaries will receive a tax-free, lump-sum payment that can be used to pay for your final arrangements, pay off your debts or supplement their income after your passing.
A Last Will and Testament
A Will is a legal document that lets you formally and legally document how you want your affairs carried out when you pass away. If you’re above the legal age in Ontario (18 years of age) and mentally capable (“of sound mind”), you can (and should) make your Will! Every adult needs a Will regardless of marital status, financial wealth or whether or not you have children.
Creating a Will in Ontario
Start the estate planning process by writing your Will! You don’t even need to gather much information to begin: you don’t need to make a list of the things you own, calculate how much money you have, or gather information about your bank accounts.
What you will need is details about your family members. Be prepared to make some decisions about who you want to name as guardians for any minor children or pets, how you want to distribute your assets and who will be in charge of managing your affairs.
Learn more about the appointments you’ll need to make in your Will—discover helpful resources from Epilogue Wills:
Assess and Divide Your Assets
Next, you’ll need to get a general sense of your assets. Don’t feel the need to list and distribute every single thing you own. In your Will, you’ll only list the things you want to give to specific people or charities—called specific gifts.
Everything else you own is called the “residue” of your estate (basically, all that is left), which includes everything you didn’t list as specific gifts. This includes your possessions, bank accounts and real estate property. You decide who gets which portion (or percentage) of the residue of your estate.
The residue of your estate can also include your digital assets like your NFT’s or cryptocurrency holdings!
Consider Donating to Charity
An often overlooked aspect of writing a Will is the opportunity to donate a part of your estate to charity. If you’ve spent a good part of your life supporting a cause that’s close to your heart, you can continue to support it after you pass away as well.
Print and Sign Your Will
When you’ve put all your final wishes into your Will, it’s ready to be printed and signed. Making sure your Will is legal is pretty simple, and it doesn’t require the help of a lawyer or notary.
All you have to do is:
Print your Will (you need a physical, paper copy.)
Date and sign the Will in the presence of two witnesses (your witnesses shouldn’t be beneficiaries or family members of beneficiaries.)
Have your witnesses sign the Will as well.
There are a few other things we recommend doing after you finish making your Will to make sure it’s legal, safe and always up-to-date, including finding a safe place to store it and talking to your friends and family about your wishes.
Learn more about creating a Will in Ontario on the Epilogue Wills Blog:
What Happens if You Die Without a Will in Ontario?
In Canada, if you die without a Will, it’s called dying intestate. If you don’t have a Will when you die, your assets will be distributed according to the default rules in Ontario—which may not be what you would have wanted.
What Are Some of the Potential Implications of This?
Not having a Will means you don’t get to choose your executor.
If you haven’t made this important decision, one of your friends or family members will need to apply to court to be put into this role. It will likely take longer to administer your estate as a result.
Not having a Will means you don’t get to choose who gets what.
When someone dies without a Will, their assets are distributed according to the default rules of the province. This means that your assets may not end up in the hands of the people you want to receive them.
Not having a Will means you don’t get to choose your dependents’ guardian(s).
If your children have another legal guardian (such as your spouse or partner) that person will care for your children if something happens to you. But if you are the last surviving guardian and you don’t have a Will that names a replacement guardian,
the courts won’t know who you would have wanted to give this responsibility to.
Without this information, the court will choose the person or people they think will be best suited to act as your children’s guardian(s). This can lead to conflict if family members can’t agree on who should take on this role.
What’s more, in Ontario specifically, the appointment of a guardian named in a Will is only temporary. In Ontario, your guardian assumes their role for 90 days. They need to apply to the court if they want to be named the permanent guardian of your minor children.
Not having a Will can extend the amount of time the probate process takes.
Probate is how a Will is validated before assets are distributed. Banks and financial institutions need to feel confident they are giving your money and assets to the right person/people. Without a Will, the probate process takes much longer and can cause your family lots of headaches (and money!)
Write Your Will Online Today With Epilogue Wills!
Now that you know the basics of the estate planning process in Ontario, you can feel confident that you have everything you need to start writing your Will. And, with the help of Epilogue Wills, you can start and finish the process in as little as 20 minutes.
Created by estate planning lawyers, Epilogue Wills helps Canadians write legally-binding Wills completely online. In just a few simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to having a comprehensive estate plan that you feel good about. Find peace of mind, protect your assets and most importantly, protect your loved ones with a Will from Epilogue Wills.