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Estate planning checklist: Everything you need to know

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The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns to control it have had unprecedented effects on lives and economies around the world. But at its core, the new coronavirus is a matter of life and death. It has prompted many people to think more urgently about their mortality, especially healthcare workers who are on the frontlines.

Whether you are deciding to create an estate plan for the first time or updating the one you have, take a look at MD Financial Management’s checklist to make sure you’ve got what you need.

1. Will

Your will lets you dictate how your assets are distributed and who handles your affairs.  

Your assets

  • Keep an up-to-date list of your significant assets and note the location if outside your province or the country.
  • Are there any specific items you want to leave to a specific person?
  • Where possible, do you want assets to pass outside your estate to avoid probate fees (e.g., an insurance policy, an RRSP)? If so, do this via the asset’s beneficiary designation.

Your beneficiaries

  • Who will inherit your assets?
  • If they are minors (or others who may mismanage an inheritance), do you have a trust or other provisions in place?
  • Is the list of beneficiaries in your will up to date (e.g., have there been births, deaths or marriages in your family)?
  • Have you included alternates in case your named beneficiaries pre-decease you?
  • Do you want to give to charities or other organizations?

Guardians (if you have minor children)

  • Have you spoken to your prospective guardian(s) to be sure they are willing?
  • Do they have the physical health and financial means (beyond what you may leave) to raise your child?
  • Did you include an alternate in case the guardian you chose is unable to commit?
  • Review your choice of guardian as your child grows older

Your executor1

An executor administers your estate and carries out your wishes after you die. You will need to name an executor or co-executors. Be sure to name one or more alternates as well.

  • Is the executor capable of carrying out the responsibilities?
  • Do they have the time? A simple estate settlement can take as much as 250 hours of direct involvement.
  • Does this person live in the same city? It is a lot more costly, time-consuming and inconvenient if they have to travel.
  • Did you speak to your executor to be sure they are willing?
  • Does your executor know where to find your important documents and passwords?
  • Will they be capable of dealing with your medical professional corporation?

If you’re ready to make a will, your MD Advisor* can recommend a local lawyer or notary if you need one. Also, MD Private Trust Company offers professional executor services — whether you need an executor, a co-executor to act with a busy family member, or an agent for executor services (if you’ve been named an executor and want help with that responsibility).

2. Power of attorney2

An attorney (not to be confused with a lawyer) acting under a power of attorney document is a person who can make decisions on your behalf, usually when you’re incapable of doing so. More specifically, a continuing (or enduring) power of attorney for property document names the person who will manage your financial matters, while an attorney acting under a power of attorney for personal care document (or the equivalent in your province) makes decisions about your healthcare needs.

  • Do you understand what it means to give someone power of attorney?
  • Did you name an alternate in case the person you chose is unable to serve?
  • Does your attorney understand your wishes?
  • Does your attorney know where you keep your important documents and passwords?
  • Do you want to specify a triggering event, such as a declaration of incapacity, for your power of attorney document to take effect? (Once the document is signed, your designated attorney could have immediate control.)

3. Life insurance

Life insurance protects the financial security of your family and helps them maintain their lifestyle after you die. It can also help pay the taxes and other liabilities that will arise on your death.

  • Do you have life insurance? If so, is it adequate?
  • Make sure the beneficiaries you designated on these policies are not out of date.

4. Funeral wishes

  • Do you have specific wishes for your funeral?
  • Do you want to be buried, cremated, or have your body donated to medical science?
  • Inform your family of your wishes — don’t rely on your will since it may not be read until later.

5. Organ donation

6. Financial planning

  • Do you have an idea of what your tax bill will be at your death? What about probate fees?
  • Have you thought about how you can minimize some of those taxes?
  • Have you set aside enough money to pay for taxes, funeral costs and other expenses?
  • Do you have a succession plan for your medical practice?

7. Digital assets

From bank accounts to your Facebook page, your so-called “digital assets” will need to be dealt with when you die or if you become incapacitated.

  • Compile a list of your “digital assets”:
    • financial accounts you manage online
    • social media and email accounts
    • virtual collections (books, music)
    • data stored on computer hardware
  • Specify in your will how you want social media accounts handled.
  • Tell a few people (e.g., family member, lawyer, executor) where to find the key document containing your passwords.

To learn more about MD Financial Management’s estate and trust services, contact an MD Advisor and find out how we can help.

* MD Advisor refers to an MD Management Limited Financial Consultant or Investment Advisor (in Quebec), or an MD Private Investment Counsel Portfolio Manager.

Estate and trust services are offered through MD Private Trust Company.

1 An “executor” is called a “liquidator” in the province of Quebec and an “estate trustee” in the province of Ontario.

2 In the province of Quebec, a “power of attorney” is called a “procuration” or a “mandate” and a “continuing power of attorney” is called a “protection mandate.”

The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.