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COVID-19 brings estate planning to the forefront

Man signing documents with a fountain pen.

Healthcare workers on the frontlines are playing a critical role taking care of Canadians while dealing with the COVID-19 crisis on multiple levels, including the risk to their own health.

Taking care of yourself includes making sure your affairs are in order. Here are some questions to think about when it comes to estate planning.

Should I review my estate plan?

If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan in the last few years, it’s a good idea to do so now. An effective estate plan outlines how your assets should be transferred and ensures that your beneficiaries’ needs are met after you have passed away and that taxes and fees are minimized.

Ask yourself if your chosen executor is still the best choice. Consider whether a marriage, divorce, birth or death has changed any of the plans you have in place. Have you moved to a different province, or have your assets changed such that your estate plan needs updating?

Consider consolidating important papers such as title deeds, insurance policies and tax returns. It may also be wise to note key passwords for critical digital records.

What documents should I have in place?

An estate plan involves writing a will that will govern how your assets are to be transferred when you pass away. Powers of attorney should also be put in place to protect you if you become incapable of handling your affairs while you are living.

A continuing, or enduring, power of attorney for property appoints someone to act on your behalf regarding your assets in a time of incapacity. An advance directive is part of your power of attorney for personal care that ensures someone can speak for you and make decisions if you become incapable of looking after your healthcare needs. Healthcare directives allow you to express how you wish to be treated medically and can address end-of-life issues. An inter vivos trust (or “living trust”) can also be part of an estate plan.

Can I change my will or powers of attorney when we should be physical distancing?

Yes, estate planning documents can still be changed. Many lawyers have established ways to allow documents to be signed and witnessed safely while maintaining physical distancing. Changes made by hand to existing wills or powers of attorney are not advisable, however, as they may be found not to be legally binding.

Are holographic wills legal?

Holographic wills, or those written completely in your own handwriting, are legal in some provinces. However, they are often fraught with problems when the time comes to settle the estate, leading to unmet wishes, increased costs and often court involvement to address gaps or inconsistencies. A properly planned and legally drafted will is best.

What should I know about the estate plans of my older family members?

It is best to be aware of whether your older family members have wills and powers of attorney in place and, if so, where the originals are kept. Do their plans need updating? You may choose to discuss with them how they wish to be treated medically and if they have any special end-of-life wishes. These are sensitive discussions but often very much appreciated.

Can MD Financial Management help if I become an executor of an estate?

Yes. If you have been appointed an executor and you need help fulfilling this role, MD Private Trust Company can help through its comprehensive executor services. MDPT can also be appointed to act as executor in your will, ensuring experienced trust professionals are there to carry out your wishes. See our executor checklist.

Who can I contact for more information?

Please contact your MD Advisor* or an MDPT Estate and Trust Advisor for assistance on any of these matters.

* 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.

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