Senior Scene July 17, 2017

This week’s column is a huge departure from the fun and frivolity of the subject matter last week, but the topic of death came up with a friend so I thought it was prudent to share some information on this subject matter. Our conversation was centred on the topic of funeral arrangements and the difficult decisions that loved ones were forced to make at a time when they were most vulnerable, particularly when their loved one truly only wanted something simple and unassuming. It becomes really difficult to choose caskets, urns, service arrangements if you have no guidance from the deceased because inevitably you “do not want to appear cheap or frugal” at this emotional time. So here is some information to help you plan and provide support to your loved ones when the time comes.

Make a will. Your will is the easiest and most effective way to tell others how you want your property and possessions– called your estate– to be distributed. Even if you do not have much money or property, it is still a good idea to have a will so you can name an executor and clearly identify who you want making decisions after you die.

What happens if I do not make a will? Under the law in most provinces and territories, your nearest relatives are the people who will share in your estate if you die without making a will. Depending how complicated your estate is, your relatives may need to hire a lawyer and go to court to deal with your estate. Sometimes, a government agency will get involved to make sure that your estate is dealt with properly.

Your executor (also called your trustee, personal representative or liquidator) is the person you name in your will to be in charge of your property and possessions after your death. Your executor carries out the instructions you have written in your will. If there is no one close to you who can act as your executor, you can appoint a trusted professional.

You do not need to get legal advice, but because a will and other estate planning documents are legal documents, it is a good idea to have your will prepared by a lawyer. Will kits and guides can help you get organized, but they cannot deal with everything.

Planning your own funeral can be as simple as telling your family and close friends what you want, or as complicated as pre-arranging or even pre-paying your own funeral. Pre-arranging a funeral means making arrangements for your funeral with a funeral home or memorial society. Pre-paying means you also pay for your funeral ahead of time.

Some final helpful tips and safeguards:
• It pays to get professional advice when preparing legal documents such as a will.
• Ensure your family knows where to find your will and other legal documents and can access them
• Review your will every five years, or sooner if there has been a change in your family, to make sure it continues to reflect your wishes.
• If you marry, you will need to make a new will as your old one will not be valid.
• Talk to your family about your funeral wishes or plans, or tell them where you have them written down.
• Do not pre-pay for a funeral unless you know you can get your money back if you move or change your mind, or if the funeral home goes out of business.

The Government of Canada website provides information about wills and estates under the heading “legal matters”.