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Your Will does not have an expiry date — you should review it from time to time

15 August, 2022 • Blog
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Your Will does not expire. It is valid from the day you make it until the day you die.

You, on the other hand, will expire. Some day. Eventually. And when that day comes, your last Will takes effect to instruct your estate trustee (executor) how to deal with your assets.

In some circumstances, the law will step in to alter the terms of an otherwise valid Will. For example, if a testator (a person who makes a Will) is married when they make their Will but that marriage ends before the testator dies, the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA) steps in to nullify gifts in the Will to that spouse. When you think about it, this makes good sense; the SLRA saves anyone who neglects to update their Will after a divorce from inadvertently leaving assets to their ex-spouse. Still, the best advice is to regularly review your Will and update it if needed; do not depend on the SLRA to fix issues with your current Will.

Your life is a work in progress. Life’s circumstances on the day you make your Will may be quite different than circumstances one, five, or 15 years later. All to say, you should review your Will every few years to ensure it reflects your current wishes. Also, review your Will whenever you experience a significant life change that may affect your estate plan.

What sort of life changes call for you consider updating your Will?

Changes to your attorneys and trustees

If you ever become incapable of managing your affairs, your existing powers of attorney documents appoint people you trust to manage your health and property for as long as you live. In your Will, you appointed estate trustees to manage your estate after your death.

If any of your attorneys or executors has died, moved out of the province, become incapable, or are no longer interested in their appointed role, it’s time to consider updating your Will. You want the peace of mind which comes from knowing people you trust — who are willing and able to act when the need arises — are standing by to manage your affairs.

Changes to beneficiaries

Your existing Will names beneficiaries who are to receive testamentary gifts. If any of your beneficiaries has died or had a significant life change, it’s time to consider updating your Will. For example, if a beneficiary has developed a disability since you made your Will, you should consider changing their gift to a trust instead of an outright gift.

Maybe there are new beneficiaries to consider. Have children or grandchildren been born since you made your Will? Have any beneficiaries grown from children into thriving adults? Are any adult children struggling and you would like to provide them with extra support? There are many potential events which may change how you should deal with the gifts in your existing Will.

 Changes to marital status

If you have divorced or left a common-law relationship, or you are entering a new relationship, it’s time to consider updating your Will and estate plan. The beneficiaries of any life insurance policies may need to be changed. You may want to make a mutual Wills contract with your new life partner so you are each assured the other will be supported, and each of your children from an earlier relationship will ultimately inherit at least some of your new blended family’s wealth.

Changes to your financial status

If you have had any significant changes to your financial status, it’s time to consider updating your Will. Have you acquired a family cottage? Have you received an inheritance? Have you grown a business? Have you won the LottoMax jackpot? OK, this last one is a long shot, but it does happen.

Significant changes to your financial status may call for a renewed tax strategy to limit capital gains and estate administration tax. If your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) has rolled over into a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) and you no longer have a spouse, you may want to plan how your estate will pay the tax liability.

Review more than just your Will

Remember too, your Will is not the only thing to review from time to time. Every thorough estate plan you should at least consider distributing assets outside your Will, perhaps by giving them away while you are alive, converting them to joint ownership with your adult children, purchasing an annuity, making charitable donations, purchasing life insurance, or any of the myriad of estate planning options which may be best for you and your family’s unique circumstances.

As time goes by and life’s road throws up its usual twists, turns, chicanes, and switchbacks, you may find what you thought was the best plan when you made your Will no longer is.

At a minimum, review your Will and estate plan every few years and whenever there has been a significant change in life. This can be as simple as reading over your Will to confirm everything is still as you want it. Or it may require consultation with a lawyer, accountant, and financial planner to make a thorough review.

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