“I'm really looking forward to creating my Will!" … said no one excitedly, ever. It's no secret that thinking about or talking about the “what ifs," and the topic of death, is something many tend to avoid. Taking action and actually planning for those “what ifs" can feel even more difficult, and that discomfort may be a strong contributing factor for the more than 50 percent of Canadians who don't have a Will.
And what if you're younger, perhaps just embarking on your career, recently married, moving out on your own or starting a family? Findings from a recent Ipsos survey show that 70 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 don't have a Will. But is it something you need to think about at that stage of life? It's a scenario that Gillian, a recent grad in her 20s, recently talked through with her dad. “My dad asked me, 'Have you ever thought about where your money goes if you die without a Will?'" Gillian shares. “At my age, it's not something I've really thought about. I think most young people tend to assume they're too young or don't have enough assets to need those types of plans."
As their conversation continued, Gillian and her dad talked about how if the unexpected were to happen, and if you pass away without a Will and you don't have a spouse or children, your assets are inherited by your parents. “My dad asked me if that was something I would want," Gillian explains. “It really got me thinking about what's important to me. I also realized I have more than I thought I did—with a full-time job, I'm starting to build my savings, but it's also things you may not automatically think about. Things like life insurance or other employee benefits. So even at my age, Will planning is important."
The power of choice
When someone passes away, a Will is generally considered the guiding legal document in the administration of their estate. It details how everything should be distributed, according to that person's wishes. For those aged 18 and over (or the age of majority in your province or territory of residence), even if you haven't yet accumulated many assets or property, owning or having a legal interest in any property generally means you have an estate. Creating a valid Will gives you the power of choice and puts you in the driver's seat with your wishes as it relates to your property. “As I learned more about it, I realized a Will can be reassuring. It can let me document exactly how I'd want to distribute what I own," Gillian explains.
The next important aspect is the “how"—how do you prepare a valid Will and properly document these decisions? Given everyone's situation is unique to them, it's important to consider the complexity of your circumstances and your estate planning needs to determine the most suitable method for making a Will. Those with more complex individual, family or financial situations should consult with a qualified legal professional to ensure their circumstances are properly accounted for in a Will and the document is drafted accurately. For those who don't have complicated estate planning needs, reputable online platforms like Epilogue, may be another option to consider. As Gillian explains, “For me, I figured an online platform was a good fit. As I got started, I was worried it was going to be lengthy and confusing—I think that may be another a big reason many people avoid creating a Will in general—but the process was very straightforward."
For every individual, the choices you make as part of Will planning will be different and based on your particular circumstances. It may be critical details such as who to name as a guardian for your minor children, whether you'd like to include charitable giving as part of your legacy, who you'd want to inherit personal items that you truly cherish, and the list goes on. “For my own situation, I found going through the process really helped me think carefully about what is important to me. I was also made decisions that are in line with my personal values," says Gillian.
Accounting for your digital life
When thinking about your digital footprint, it can represent multiple facets of life, financially and personally. So what happens to your digital assets when you pass away? Gillian shares that this was a big question mark for her before she went through the planning process. Because a Will is fundamental in dealing with the entire scope of a person's property, planning for your digital assets is as critically important as any other type of asset you have. “Maybe it's your online accounts, your loyalty points, the photos and videos you store on your phone, or your social media accounts," lists Gillian. Much like other forms of property, whether it's more sentimental or financial in nature, your wishes for your digital assets should be included in your Will as well.
Talking with your loved ones about your wishes
Other key aspects of planning are making choices for who you want to name as executor of your Will and who will act on your behalf if you are faced with a situation of incapacity, under a power(s) of attorney (POA). A POA is another important document that allows you to appoint a trusted individual to make financial or personal care decisions on your behalf, if you become unable to make those decisions on your own.
“Thinking about and making those choices sparked some really important and enlightening conversations with my siblings," Gillian says. “It opened up conversations I wouldn't have otherwise had with them. We talked about what my intentions would be, and what theirs would be as well, and shared our perspectives on the 'what ifs.'" Through that discussion, Gillian realized her siblings' views on if or how they'd want to be involved—or the responsibilities they'd feel strongly about if something were to happen to her—weren't necessarily what she'd anticipated. “I'm really grateful we were able to have that open communication with each other. It positively impacted some of my decisions and gave me peace of mind in my choices."
It's never too early to plan
“Being in my 20s, thinking about my own Will planning definitely felt strange at first. I think part of that comes purely from my age," shares Gillian. Another factor for many is no matter where they see tragedy—in the news or through personal experiences—most do recognize that loss can happen at any age. But no one ever expects it to happen to them.
Regardless of age or circumstances, the process of creating a Will provides the opportunity to make conscious choices about what matters most to you. And that sentiment rings true from Gillian's own Will planning experience. “I know I'll need to make changes and update my Will as my life changes down the road, but I've got a sense of peace about what I want to be in control of, and that's a great feeling."
In Quebec, financial planning services are provided by RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. which is licensed as a financial services firm in that province. In the rest of Canada, financial planning services are available through RBC Dominion Securities Inc.