An updated Will ensures your estate goals will be carried out. Register file photo

From age to age, a guide for your Will

By 
  • November 6, 2017
Having an outdated Will can be as harmful as having no Will at all.


Tim Hewson, co-founder of Ottawa-based company PartingWishes Inc., said people should be updating their legal documents as often as every year.

“What happens is a lot of people write their Will and it just lays dormant for 25 years,” he told The Catholic Register. “The reason why you update your Will is not just because of changes in your own personal or financial situation, but also changes to anybody who is named in your Will.”

Hewson, who is also CEO of LegalWills.ca, has 17 years of experience under his belt providing Canadians step-by-step support for creating Wills. Having a Will is only the first task, he said. Maintaining the document throughout your lifetime ensures that your estate plan goals will be carried out in your best interest and in the best interest of your heirs.

Below is a guide for what many people include in their will at certain stages of life:

IN YOUR 20s

It may seem strange to start thinking about one’s mortality at such a young age, but Hewson argues that people should be drafting their Wills as early as 18 years old.

“I think any adult should have a Will,” he said. “In Ontario, as soon as you turn 18, you should prepare a Will. It’s just part of your financial plan.”

Most 20-somethings are at the beginning of their careers and don’t have much in terms of financial assets. If a young person dies without a Will, the entire estate typically goes to the parents. A Will offers the person opportunities to divide their estate further, perhaps leave certain possessions to a friend or a sibling. The person might also consider setting aside money for a charity or an organization they support.

“One of the key misconceptions of writing a Will is that people say, ‘Well, I don’t have anything, so why do I need a Will?’ But the thing is, you don’t know what you’re going to be worth at the moment that you die,” said Hewson.

Hewson gives the example of a person who dies after getting hit by a bus and it is subsequently found that the bus company is liable. All of a sudden the person’s estate could be worth millions of dollars. A Will establishes how your estate is managed according to your instructions whatever size the estate may be.

IN YOUR 30s

As people get married and start a family, the most important aspect of the Will becomes naming a guardian for the children.

In the event that both parents die and a legal guardian is not named in a Will, a judge will potentially be the one to decide who gains custody of the surviving children.

“It goes beyond how much money they have, where they live and what their relationship is to you,” said Hewson.

“You can make decisions around what their parenting philosophies are, what their spiritual beliefs are.”

This is also a stage of life where most people are acquiring a lot of assets, including a home and a car.

IN YOUR 40s

As people become more financially stable, it becomes more important to create supporting documents for the executor of the individual’s Will.

Bank of Canada reported it was holding approximately 1.8 million unclaimed balances worth $678 million at the end of last year. A large chunk of these balances, said Hewson, are bank accounts that the executor never knew about.

As people acquire more assets in their lifetime, it is important that they leave a detailed record of all bank accounts, stocks, bonds and other financial assets. Digital assets are also easily overlooked, including digital photos, manuscripts, social media accounts and online rewards programs.

IN YOUR 50s

It is common in an outdated Will for people to have  named their parents as the guardian for their children.

“While that might work well when (the grandparents) are in their 50s, not so well when they’re in their 70s,” said Hewson.

As children get older, this might also be the time for people to review how each child can benefit from the estate.

IN YOUR 60s

Nearing retirement age is another significant time of change in a person’s financial situation. Many people begin to downsize, moving from the three-bedroom family home to a condo or renting a smaller apartment.

Not only does the estate become more manageable in preparation for retirement, it can also mean a less overwhelming process for a person’s executor.

IN YOUR 70s AND BEYOND

Hewson said people should be updating their contacts throughout their lifetime. It becomes especially apparent at this stage of life when the extended family is growing.

It becomes more complicated when the person now begins to consider children and grandchildren to benefit from their estate. Loved ones may have moved away or even passed away.

It’s also important to update the named executor of the Will. For example, if a person named an executor of the same age when they drafted the Will, it may no longer be to the estate’s advantage to maintain that executor. It may be time to name one of the children or someone younger to take on the responsibility.

“The most important thing there is the ‘what if’ scenarios,” said Hewson. “You start to wrap your head around all these different scenarios that could play out and make sure your Will has covered all of that.”

Beyond these different stages of life, people might also consider updating their Wills when new relationships develop or old ones deteriorate, particularly marriages and divorces. Children might become estranged from their parents. Also, executors and legal guardians may die or move away.

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