Entering into a marriage means you should draft an estate plan as well. CNS photo/ Gregory A. Shemitz
  • November 1, 2014

If you’re tying the knot, it’s time to draft an estate plan.

“Marriage is a life-changing experience from an emotional and social perspective, but also from a legal perspective,” says Toronto-based lawyer Eric Bundgard. 

Newlyweds should have a financial plan and they shouldn’t rely on a pre-existing will. Getting married revokes previous wills, says Bundgard. 

While estate planning might not seem important for young couples, situations can change quickly as assets are accumulated in a marriage. And with the trend today for young couples to delay marriage until careers are established, a proper estate plan is even more essential. 

“A typical scenario could be if you are getting married a little later in life — you’ve both got substantial assets — and you have the intention to bestow estate value on a sibling or nephew,” explains Bundgard. Once you get married, you need to revisit how you want your assets to flow. 

Getting married a second time makes things more complicated. 

“There may be adult children who may have expectations of inheritance from their parent so if you don’t plan for it, that second marriage revokes your original will,” says Bundgard. “Your children from your first marriage could be out to lunch.” 

Despite the importance of wills, not enough newly married couples create one at this life-changing moment in their lives — or as time goes on. According to a survey by Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Co., 56 per cent of Canadian adults do not have a signed will. 

“I find that couples coming in have been married for years. They’re in their 30s or 40s, they have kids and then they start thinking about an estate plan,” Bundgard said. 

In addition to updating your will, another important component of an estate plan is updating beneficiary designations, adds Bundgard. 

“These can be made for a whole host of assets,” he says, such as pension plans, life insurance policies and RRSPs. 

Using the example of RRSPs, one of the first things to do when you’re married is to tell your financial institution if you want to name your spouse as your beneficiary. 

“If they don’t make the designation, when you pass away the institution that carries the RRSP will pay the asset to your estate . . . That will trigger potential capital gains tax which could be substantial.” But had you designated your spouse in the first place, then that RRSP value would roll over to your spouse on a tax-deferred basis. 

In terms of actually creating the plan, Bundgard says there’s always the option of doing it yourself but “you get what you pay for.” 

“Unless you are very astute or self-taught in the matters of estate planning, you could miss something — it could be a minor thing or it could be a major thing.” 

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.) 

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