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What to Include in Your Estate Planning Checklist

checklist

As we age, so grows the importance and urgency of having an estate planning checklist every passing year. None of us want to think about dying, but if we don’t plan for our final days we could cause our family or friends we leave behind unnecessary stress, especially so at a time they’ll be grieving. Following is a list of things you should include, but ideally you should use one of the numerous commercially available binders that have pre-printed checklists that are divided into sections.

My suggestion is that you use this checklist and create a “just-in-case” file, and be sure your executors, children, and lawyers know where this information is stored.

  • Vital statistics (on yourself, partner, children and other beneficiaries)
  • Information about Powers of Attorney for financial and personal care.
  • Contact details of your advisors, accountants, lawyers, and other professionals.
  • Location of your and your partner’s original will and related documents.
  • Details about your funeral arrangements and cemetery plot.
  • Information on the location and access to keys for your safety deposit box.
  • Other important documents are birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce papers, citizenship and passports, medical records, income tax returns, banking, mortgage, loan, real estate and investment records, vehicle ownership, prenuptial, separation, cohabitation agreements, and custody/adoption records.
  • Household accounts (include provider, account number, and contact information), bank account information, investment accounts information, pension plans, annuities, valuable personal assets, real estate, business interests, insurance (life, disability, critical illness, long-term care, etc.); loan and credit line information, and credit cards. And most important the file location for all computer, cell phone or other electronic access or online passwords.

Also, if you’re married or in a common law relationship, it’s vital that both you and your spouse’s wills detail what should happen in any of these following situations:

  • If your spouse or partner should predecease you,
  • If you predecease your spouse or partner and,
  • If you both die at the same time.

One thing I can’t stress enough is to put a lot of thought into naming beneficiaries, and to be aware of the changes in the new Alberta Wills and Succession Act. The same diligence should be put into who you select as your executor or executors. Many people name one or more of their children, often without telling them or considering where they live.

Clerical errors in beneficiary designations could cause assets to pass through the estate rather than directly to heirs, costing additional probate fees and delays.

Many people assume a divorce or separation revokes prior designations. But that’s not always the case as it depends on the province of residence.

Taxes owing on assets outside the estate (example: RRSPs) may have to be paid by assets inside the estate, potentially creating unequal tax burdens for your heirs. To avoid these and many other potential problems, especially with items that have to be probated, get proper legal, accounting and financial advice.
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