OTTAWA — Many Canadians put aside time early in the new year for a review of their finances and experts say a look at your will should be a part of the process in order to insure your estate plans are up to date.
Lawyer Wendi Crowe says you don't need to update your will every year, but she says to have a read through it once a year to see if there are any changes you might need to make.
"You know the initial process of thinking about estate planning and putting something in place should be done with a whole lot of flexibility in mind so you don't have to change it every two weeks or every six months," says Crowe, who leads the national private client services group at Miller Thomson.
"But the fact is that you know you can’t think of everything that might happen and you do need to update to let your plan serve you."
Having a will is an important part of your financial plan, but issues may arise if it sits in a desk drawer, unchanged for decades as life moves on from where you were when it was written.
As families and assets change, the plan will need to evolve. Marriages, divorces, births and deaths, often mean an update is required.
"Good planning at the outset means you don't need to update as much, but certainly any time any of those things happen, you should be reviewing," Crowe says.
A young person, she says, may go several years without needing to make changes, but if they get into a serious relationship or marry and start having children and those children start to grow up, changes may need to happen more frequently.
Moving between provinces may also prompt a review because while a will from another province would be considered valid, the rules governing wills and probate differ between provinces.
Crowe adds it isn't just your will that you need to remember to keep up to date. You also need to ensure that the beneficiaries for things like life insurance policies are kept current with your wishes.
Lawyer Tina Garbas-Tyrrell suggests having a lawyer read over your will once every three to five years.
"Quite often my clients will contact me and I'll take a quick read over the will and often I'm happy to tell them that no changes are needed, but it gives them peace of mind knowing that they, you know, put their mind to it," said Garbas-Tyrrell, a wills and estates expert at TGT Law.
"But sometimes we find that a significant change is required, so you don't really know until you look at the documents."
Garbas-Tyrrell says people often name an executor or guardian for their children from the generation older than themselves and that can require changes as those people age.
"As time goes by, often those people pass away or have become disabled themselves, so you want to make sure that the people you've appointed as estate trustees and guardians are still alive, willing and capable of performing the duty you would hope that they would perform," she said.
Both Garbas-Tyrrell and Crowe say if you want to make changes to not just write them in by hand on your will, but instead have your will redrafted and signed properly to ensure your wishes are clear to avoid any disputes after your death.
"Writing on the face of the will, I think it's safe to say is always a bad idea," Garbas-Tyrrell says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2022.
Craig Wong, The Canadian Press