Most people know they need a will, even though a good half of Canadian adults don't have one. Even with a valid will in place, you haven't fully prepared yourself to protect your family and your assets. Your will does nothing to help you or your loved ones if you are alive but unable to make decisions due to dementia, illness or injury.
Here are the basic documents that everybody should have:
1. A valid will that is kept up to date to reflect changes in your life. The will should be prepared as part of a bigger estate planning picture that takes into consideration your joint property, your designated beneficiaries on policies and plans, your insurance coverage and of course your plans for your family members left behind. All of these things must be co-ordinated so that your documents don't contradict each other or create confusion that will end up being sorted out by the courts.
2. An Enduring Power of Attorney, which is also called a Continuing Power of Attorney, or a Power of Attorney for Property. This document allows you to appoint someone to make financial decisions for you if you should be unable to do so for yourself. Most commonly this document is used when a person develops dementia, but it may also be used if you should be severely injured in an accident or become very ill.
3. An Advance Health Care Directive, also called a Personal Directive or Health Care Proxy. The person you name in this document will be able to make decisions for you about medical issues, health care and personal issues. The document should also contain your instructions on end-of-life decisions.
The above three documents are usually sufficient for individuals whose estates are not complicated. Business owners may find that they need additional estate planning documents, such as:
4. Shareholders' Agreement, sometimes called a buy/sell agreement. While not solely an estate planning document, a shareholders' agreement should address what is to happen with shares of a privately held company if the owner should pass away or lose mental capacity.
5. Life insurance to fund the buy/sell agreement.
6. A written business succession plan that sets out who is to take over the family business, and how that plan is to be implemented financially.
7. A holding company may be needed to funnel excess cash out of an operating company to improve the potential tax situation.
Individuals differ, and so do their estate-planning needs. You may find that you have specific goals that will require additional documents to be made. For example, you may wish to leave a Memorandum of Personal Effects that gives certain items to specific people on your passing. You may wish to leave a Letter to Executor that leaves personal messages, gives further explanations or expresses wishes to your family members.
Start by making sure that you have the first three documents in place and keep them up to date. An experienced estate planning lawyer can help you decide what else you might need or want to protect your loved ones.