We should all have a Will - the Covid-19 crisis won’t last forever, but has crystallized how quickly life can change and serves to demonstrate the urgency of succession planning at any stage of life.
What is a Will?
A Will is the legal document that spells out your last wishes. It should be thoroughly considered with a lawyer who will draft a document that makes your wishes legally binding.
In the province of Ontario, dying without a Will, or “intestate”, leaves the distribution of your life’s accumulations up to the courts that follow the Ontario Succession Law Reform Act. Everything; from what you want done with your body, to whom you want to leave money or mementos to, and other, equally important decisions will be made without your input.
Even if you have no money, assets, property, partner, children, family, pets, or charities that are important to you, you will still leave a body for which arrangements need to be made. Would you want to be buried or cremated? Where would you like your body or ashes to go? Would you want to donate all, or some, of your organs if medically feasible? Would you want to donate your body to medical research?
Firstly, if you leave behind people you love, you would not want them to be burdened with decisions on what to do with your remains while they are dealing with the shock and sadness of losing you. Secondly, you would want the money stream that you were providing to continue after you are gone. If financial directions are not left in a Will, your loved ones could end up struggling with the rent, or the mortgage, or the car payments. If they know you wanted a certain type of funeral, not knowing where your money is could leave them struggling to find the funds to honour your last wishes.
You might die at the beginning of a separation from your partner with whom you may or may not have children. If you do not have a Will, you could end up benefitting the person to whom you are still legally married. This situation would be especially unfair if you had children with a previous or new partner, or if you have nieces or nephews, or other people to whom you would’ve preferred to leave your money, house(s), or special mementos.
An alternative scenario is one where you maintained good relations with a former partner. If you do not have a Will stating your wish to leave something for this person, the courts might decide to leave all of your wealth to your current partner. Dying intestate will not necessarily provide for siblings, parents, dear friends, beloved pets, nor your favourite charities.
These are just a few examples illustrating the need for a Will - with or without Covid-19. Your life is never as straight forward as you think it may be. A lawyer will go through the domains of your life, and the people and elements within them, and help you draw up a legal document that will carry out your final wishes.