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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My afternoon in St. Albert - avoiding estate problems

Yesterday I spent the afternoon delivering a seminar to a large group of Scotiabank customers at one of our St. Albert branches. It was a really great group who had tons of questions and stories of their own to share. One thing I noticed is that almost everyone in the group indicated that they had been involved at one time in an "ugly" estate, or knew someone who had been. This is something I've heard many, many times. These days estate disputes and problems are so common that people almost expect it as the normal way.

Disputes, problems and delays don't have to be the normal way; they can largely be avoided.

The first line of defence against your estate landing in a big mess after your death is to get a proper Will done. Have it prepared by an experienced estate planning lawyer. It will cost a few dollars, but not nearly as much as it would cost to have the mistakes fixed after your death. And more importantly, it will prevent your family from being in that situation in the first place.

Secondly, get a proper Enduring Power of Attorney done. The person you appoint will have full control over your almost every aspect of your finances if you lose your mental capacity. If that person is poorly chosen or does not have clear direction on what he or she is doing, that often leads to a financial problem that does not come to light until you have passed away and your finances are taken over by your executor.

Thirdly, if you haven't had your Will updated in several years, take it out and have a look at it. Does it still say what you need it to say? Think of what has changed in your life since you last made your Will (grandchildren have been born, you've retired, you've remarried, etc).

Fourthly, talk to your family members if you're not sure who wants to be involved in your business or your farm. Find out what they are interested in.

Fifth, talk to the person or people you've named as executor and as guardian of minor children to make sure they are willing and able to take on the task you're giving them. If they are going to refuse to do it, it's better that you know now and can replace them.

Sixth, tell your executor where the original Will is kept. Most people keep their original Wills at their lawyer's office, the trust company's vault or in the bank safe deposit box. If the Will isn't in one of those places, there may be delays while your executor searches for it. Hiding your Will in a clever place where nobody can find it only works while you're alive; once you've passed away and the Will needs to be found, it's a problem.

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