Draft a will: It’s best to have it drawn up by a lawyer but even a handwritten will that is signed and witnessed is better than nothing. This is valid in Alberta but must be fully in your handwriting and cannot be typed. Be sure it is very clear how you want your assets to be handled; family, charities, etc. If there is no will, provincial law will dictate who gets what, in ways you may not like. Remember, as long as you have assets you are never too young to have a will. We never know what tomorrow may bring.
Name an executor: An executor has huge responsibilities including locating all the assets, notifying insurance companies, preparing a final tax return, paying off debts, and much, much more. Before selecting anyone, talk to them and make sure that they are willing to take on what can be an arduous task.
Prepare a list of all assets: Don’t leave your loved ones stuck with trying to figure out what you own. Prepare a complete list of all assets. Include contact information, locations, account numbers, plus anything else to help the executor. For life insurance policies, include the company, their agent and a contact number, plus the dollar amount of coverage.
Personal items: If there are items that you want certain members of your family to have (jewelry, artwork, china, silverware, furniture, or whatever), you can leave a separate letter of instruction or do a codicil to the will itself outlining their distribution.
Access to cash: Your family will need access to money to help cover the funeral arrangements and immediate expenses such as mortgage payments. Insurance money is usually paid quickly but requires the completion of forms and a copy of the death certificate. That may take time so get started right away. Remember that life insurance payments are not taxable in the hands of a beneficiary.
Open a joint account: One way to assure immediate cash is available after a death is to set up a joint bank account with a trusted family member. If anything happens to either of you, the other will have continued access to those funds.
Passwords: There may be information on your electronic devices that family members will need to access. This includes on-line bank accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. Make sure that your executor or family member has a list of these including user names and passwords.
Make your wishes known: Ensure your whole family knows how you want to be remembered, what kind of service you would like, where you would like to be laid to rest, plus anything else of personal importance. Don’t leave them guessing. There will be resistance to having these talks because no one likes to talk about these personal and uncomfortable issues. Remember though, if the unexpected does happen, your family will be glad you insisted. It’s always better to leave behind too much information than too little.
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