More than half of Canadians have taken the proactive step of putting a will in place – but for some, their experiences during the pandemic may have affected how current these plans are or given them the chance to reflect on their wishes. If this is the case, it may be time to give an existing estate plan a post-pandemic look over.
As Laura Dear, a certified financial planner with Cordis Financial in Edmonton explains, individuals should generally review a will when they have a major life change or at least every five years — for several of her clients, the pandemic falls under the first category.
“For most people, this year was a major life change year. So, they should look at it for sure.”
Indeed, a recent poll of financial advisors by Advocis showed that updating estate plans was one of the most-commonly seen ‘smart moves’ made by clients and advisors during the pandemic. In addition, a survey from Willful and Arbor Memorial Inc. reported that 37% of Canadians consider getting their end-of-life plans in order to be a priority for 2021, including updating or writing a will.
While not everyone’s planning needs will have changed during lockdown, says Alison Cohen, a lawyer with Toronto’s Cohen and Chasse, there are certain changes that lend themselves to an estate plan review:
Change in circumstances
For some people, Cohen says, the uncertainty around COVID has been the catalyst to think about updating estate planning documents to ensure they reflect their current wishes.
“A lot of people started looking through their file folders and saying ‘oh my goodness, the last time we did these things our children were infants and we made your brother the back-up executor and it’s just not relevant anymore. We want to update these things,’” says Cohen.
Wills and estate plans should be revisited following certain life events, she says, including marriage or if circumstances have changed with respect to those listed in the document — such as the beneficiaries or an executor.
A change in business circumstances or property ownership listed in the documents should also prompt a review.
“Some people’s businesses did really well [during the pandemic],” says Dear. “That’s a major life change as well, because all of a sudden, they have a lot more money than they had before, and maybe their beneficiaries couldn’t handle that.”
Considering the ‘what ifs’
In other cases, says Dear, the pandemic has prompted individuals to account for ‘just in case’ situations within their estate plans they hadn’t previously contemplated.
For example, with travel restrictions also now a consideration, there are cases where an executor who is out of jurisdiction may have to bring in local professionals, such as an accountant, to handle issues on the ground.
“There [are] barriers and you might need to put extra money in there to account for that, if your executor is out of province or out of country,” says Dear. “It’s something to review for sure.”
Details others have been looking at, she says, are a plan in case something happens to both individuals named in the will, or naming a back-up executor.
“Last year told us that things can change quickly and that they can go badly quickly, and so you need to be prepared,” says Dear.