At Intent Planning, we are big proponents of tackling the big picture by breaking it down into smaller, less intimidating pieces. Estate planning is one of those seemingly enormous tasks which tends to leave people feeling overwhelmed and at a loss for where to begin. If you are one of the many Canadians who feels like they don’t have it all figured out, we are here to remind you not to let perfection get in the way of good enough. Here are three straight-forward things you can do today to get started on your estate plan.
1. Make a List
When the time comes for your executor to locate your accounts, will they know where to begin? Take away the guess work by making a list of all your accounts, including account numbers and branch locations. If you have investment accounts managed by a separate financial advisor – think TFSAs, RSPs, RESPs, etc. – be sure to provide their contact information as well. It isn’t necessary (or advisable) for you to include account balances or beneficiaries but having a go-to list of your accounts will make a world of difference for those trusted individuals who will be responsible for seeing to your affairs.
Unlike some other assets, life insurance by-passes your estate and is paid directly to your beneficiary. In theory, this means your loved ones should have a straightforward time handling its disbursement, so long as they know what to look for and where. Like with your accounts, create a list of all your insurance policies and be sure to include the contact information of the carrier for each (i.e. Canada Life, Manulife, etc.) as well as the contact information of your financial advisor. Providing a way to contact those key people who can help loved ones navigate your affairs is always a good idea.
2. Write or Update Your Holographic Will
Too many people believe when it comes to having a will, they need to know exactly what they want and so when they don’t, they avoid it completely. “A new Angus Reid Institute poll finds that half of Canadians (51%) say they have no last will and testament in place, while only one-third (35%) say they have one that is up to date.” 
What many people don’t know is handwritten wills – also called holographic wills – are accepted in a number of provinces across Canada including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. If the high cost of getting a professional will done up is one of the things keeping you from writing one, consider doing it yourself.
Start by writing down the information you do know and go from there. For example, chances are you have thought about who you would trust to look after any dependents you might have. Even if you are only certain about one or two things now, there is no reason why you can’t modify your will as your wishes become clearer. Just be sure to physically sign the document (along with two witnesses) to ensure it is legally binding.
3. Take Stock of Your Digital Assets
We tend to forget how much we rely on technology and how much of ourselves are housed online. Do you have social media accounts? Do you bank and pay bills electronically? Do you use email to communicate and make appointments with friends and trusted professionals? Do you keep digital records? If so, you have digital assets.
These days, most people have digital assets and powers of attorney and/or executors need access to them to properly take care of your affairs. Consider leaving a list of important usernames and passwords for online accounts and updating your will to reflect how you want your digital assets to be handled, and by whom.
The estate planning process is undeniably complex and for many, overwhelming. Breaking some aspects of the planning process into manageable, “bite-size” pieces can help you overcome a fear of getting started. Remember, having a plan – however difficult creating it might be – will help give us a sense of security and peace of mind, especially in uncertain times when we might be feeling decidedly not in control. If you are ready to take the first or the next step toward creating your estate plan, connect with us.