You don’t need much to leave a lasting legacy

We often hear people say that they don’t have a Will because they don’t have much to leave. In a previous article we explained how this excuse is a poor one, as a Will isn’t supposed to come into effect the day it is written, but at some point, hopefully in the distant future. Put simply, you have absolutely no idea what your estate may be worth, and it is very common for a person’s estate to be worth far more after they have passed away, than they were ever worth during their lifetime.

Last week though we were reminded of how modest legacies can make a real difference. Charities work hard to promote legacy donations, and there is no doubt that even the most wealthy charities gratefully accept $100 or £100 donations. However, it is sometimes difficult to appreciate how a small legacy can make a difference to a billion dollar charity.

Last week, the story of  Aaron Collins reminded us that you can be smart with your legacy gifts and make real differences with a modest amount of money. As a 30 year old cancer patient, Mr Collins knew he was going to die, but he didn’t have a huge net worth, his own brother said that he “didn’t have the money to take care of himself while he was alive”, but he believed in random acts of kindness and explained in his Will that he wanted his family to go out for pizza and leave the waitress “an awesome tip…..I don’t mean 25%. I mean $500 on a f***ing pizza for a waiter or waitress”. So his brother set up a blog asking for donations to respect Aaron’s wishes and money has started to roll in. When you watch the video of the waitress’ reaction you can’t help but be touched. It is inspiring to see how creative you can be with your Will to make a difference to people’s lives. Whether it’s buying a goat for a family in a developing country for just $75, or setting up a scholarship fund or prize at your old high school for $100.

Please feel free to add some great ideas below; what is the biggest bang for the buck you can get when leaving a legacy?

And if you have now been convinced that you don’t need to be wealthy to write a Will, you can prepare one in about 20 minutes for $34.95 at LegalWills.ca and USLegalWills.com and for £24.95 at LegalWills.co.uk. If you haven’t given as much to charity during your lifetime, maybe a legacy gift is something worth considering.

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Some quick tips ahead of preparing your Will

We thought it would be useful to give a few tips for anybody contemplating using one of the services offered at LegalWills. We tell people that you can create a Will in around 20 minutes, but there are a few simple things that you can do to make the process smoother.

1. Don’t be intimidated. You are simply describing how you would like your estate to be distributed if you were to pass away. In most cases this is a very simple process and you do not need to have any legal knowledge to be able to use our service.

2. Do not procrastinate. It seems that many people wait for that perfect time in their life to prepare a Will, not realizing that a Will can be updated at any time. It is more important to have a Will in place that may need to be changed  in a few weeks or months rather than wait until that perfect moment when your life isn’t going to change. Things will happen either to you or to somebody included in your Will and there is a very high likelihood that your Will is going to need to be changed at some point in the future. Write the Will now, and update it when something happens in your life.

3. Think about key appointments. There are two important appointments to be made in a Will. Firstly, you will name an Executor (and an alternate Executor if your first choice is unable to serve). This person will have responsibility to carry out the instructions in the Will. We have described in previous articles how important this appointment is, and talked about the skills and characteristics that need to be possessed by your Executor. Secondly, you may also need to name a guardian for any minor children that you have. Again, we have described some of the considerations that you may think about in naming this person, but it is an appointment that should be made after careful thought.

We also recommend that the appointment of Executor and Guardian should not come as a surprise to somebody. You should discuss these appointments ahead of time with your chosen individuals and make sure that they are prepared to take on the roles.

4. Think about the distribution of your property. This is the why most people write their Last Will and Testament, and it is a good idea to think about this ahead of time. The people who have influenced your life, organizations that you may wish to recognize in your Will, family members, friends. And also think about the assets and possessions that make up your estate and consider how they should best be distributed. Remember of course that the Will can be updated, so if a person or organization makes a profound impression on your life, you can always update your Will to reflect this.

After you have prepared your Will you can add an inventory of assets that can be stored with your Will. At LegalWills.ca, LegalWills.co.uk and USLegalWills.com we have a document specifically to assist your Executor that should be stored with your Will. It helps you to list your personal details and assets including important contact numbers and financial account information. This information typically should not appear in the Will itself as this would require a new Will to be signed and witnessed every time a bank account was changed, but it is an important document that should be stored with the Will.

Once you are clear on the key appointments and the distribution of your property, you are in a great position to start preparing your Will. There is really no need to postpone the task and you really can have your legal Last Will and Testament in your hands in 20 minutes. There is certainly no need to feel intimidated; it is your document, expressing your wishes.

Can we trust professional advice on Will writing?

I couldn’t help but chuckle at a recent survey commissioned by the CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce).  The heading of the article was that “Surveys show that Canadians are unprepared with estate planning”. The reason according to the survey is that “84 per cent of Canadians with a will say they have named a family member or friend as executor, a move the bank says could be risky.”

The concern raised by CIBC’s Managing Director of estate planning is “”If you appoint a family member or friend without the appropriate experience or knowledge, it could cost your estate thousands of dollars, as well as months or even years of angst for your loved ones.”

In our opinion this is nothing more than a marketing promotion, thinly disguised as a news article. It doesn’t explain which circumstances lend themselves to naming a family member as an Executor, and more importantly, it doesn’t even mention the fees charged by professional estate planning services like those offered by CIBC. The CIBC representative is correct – if you do choose a family member as an Executor  it could cost your estate thousands of dollars. What he neglects to mention is that if you choose to name the CIBC as your Executor it is guaranteed to cost your estate thousands of dollars. There’s a reason why five of the top eight most profitable companies in Canada are banks.

Naming a family member as your Executor may in many cases be an extremely smart decision and it does not suggest that you or your family are unprepared. I personally had a relative lose his wife. She had a Will and he was the sole beneficiary. All that was required was for the accounts to be transferred solely into his name, and that taxes were filed. The solicitors who took care of this charged the estate £15,000. He was robbed, but like most professional services, their fees were based on a percentage of the value of the estate, not on the amount of time spent working.

Some estates are complicated and could probably benefit from professional Executor services, but don’t be influenced by surveys like this one from the CIBC. It can take time but having a family member take on the role of Executor of your estate could save your family thousands. There are also many resources available for all jurisdictions including Canada, the US and the UK.

We explained in a previous article that 19% of solicitors in England write themselves into Wills as the Executor because they know that this is the most lucrative part of the estate planning business.

At LegalWills.ca , USLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk we promote the idea of not being afraid of the law. Writing your Will and probating your Will are not activities that should be beyond the capabilities of the general public. Put simply, your Will allows you to describe how you would like your estate to be distributed, and the Executor then has a responsibility to carry out these instructions. Many professionals want you to believe that the process is way beyond the understanding of anybody but a trained individual. It is not, and you should not be intimidated into paying thousands of dollars for services that you don’t need.