It’s difficult to think about passing away. Many people find it almost as difficult to plan for their eventual demise prior to their first meeting with their estate lawyer. Therefore, here are some useful tips (in no particular order) for preparing for your first meeting with your lawyer about your will:
1.Primary Executor: Think about who you want to be the executor of your estate. For couples, each person usually chooses his or her spouse. However, if your spouse is struggling with dementia or poor health, it may be more prudent to name someone else as executor of your estate. This will be the person who is responsible for paying your liabilities and distributing your remaining estate assets according to your wishes. This is a very personal decision. Your executor is the “trustee” of your estate, which requires that person to act only in your estate’s best interests.
2. Alternate Executor: Plan for an alternate executor, should your first choice predecease you or for some other reason become unwilling or unable to act. I often recommend someone who lives reasonably close to you, making it easier for that person to administer your estate.
3. Inventory: Prepare a basic list of your estate. In other words, think about “what is my stuff?” and write down your major assets, including your properties, most prized possessions, cash, banking information, RRSPs, etc. and have an estimated value of these properties. This process makes it easier for your executor to distribute your estate after your passing. This does not need to be (nor should it be) a detailed list of everything you own, but rather a basic outline of your most important assets. Oh, and don’t forget your debts!
4. Detailed Lists?: Most estate lawyers recommend that the will not be too detailed regarding every asset you own (i.e. my grandmother’s teacups to x, my collection of table and chairs to y). However, it is sometimes helpful to create a more detailed list or memo to leave with your will for your executor. This is not necessarily legally binding on your executor, but will certainly assist your executor in giving effect to your wishes
5. Communicate with your executor: It’s important to have a discussion with the person you plan on naming as your executor. I was once approached by an executor that expressed that he had no idea that he was named as his friend’s executor. Unfortunately, relationships can become strained; it can be awkward if the person you have chosen to be your executor has not seen you for many years and did not know that s/he was going to be named as your executor. There is nothing wrong with speaking with your executor in private and saying “I am thinking about naming you as my executor. Are you okay with this? Do you have any questions or concerns?”