Anyone who has watched the old Spaghetti Westerns will probably remember this scene: There is a shootout outside the local saloon. One hombre is faster and shoots the other guy dead. The deceased has no sooner hit the dusty ground before a crowd descends and begin to fight over his boots. Some lucky person, usually the fastest or the strongest, ends up with the boots. Everyone else gets nothing!*
In our society when someone dies there is no physical fight for our boots … and our other stuff! Thank goodness. Our Canadian law states that when we die our property either goes to whom, or where, we designate in a legal Will; or the province decides who gets our boots … and everything else. This is good news hey?
But here comes the bad news – if we die without a Will there is no guarantee that the provincial government will divide things as we would have. Further, this “intestate” process where the province decides how to distribute our assets can take a long time and our estate will be charged a fee for this service.** As well, a lot more taxes will probably be paid on our estate than should have if we planned properly. And, our heirs will probably need a lawyer to look out to their interests, which will also increase the costs. Finally, if we have children who are not yet adults, and if both parents are now no longer living, the challenges are manifold and complicated; for instance, who will care for our children till they become of age? How will the children and their caregivers access needed funds before they reach age 18 or 19?
In short, there are plenty of good reasons for having an up-to-date Will right? Right!! … So why is it that approximately 56% of Canadian adults do not have such a thing? Research suggests that there are a number of reasons people do not have a Will. For instance: “I don’t want to think about dying.” “Wills are for rich people.” “My surviving spouse will look after things.” “Wills are too expensive.” “I don’t want to make decisions that may affect my relationship with my loved ones.”***
These reasons appear reasonable at first glance; however let me be clear, from the standpoint of those you love, from a legal standpoint, and from a financial perspective, having an up-to-date Will is a huge benefit to those people closest to us. It avoids conflict among family members, saves time, energy and can save a considerable amount of money. But most importantly it enables our loved ones to know exactly what our final wishes are.
Let me share a true story … Two sisters approached a friend of mine. Their father had died some years ago and their mother had recently passed away. Mom didn’t have a Will. The sisters, thank goodness, were close both physically and emotionally and were able to work together with the province to get things settled satisfactorily. While there were significant taxes and probate fees that could have been avoided, theirs was a kind of success story. And yet, as they explained to my friend, they were so sad. They felt deprived of having known Mom’s true wishes. For instance, Mom was a generous person who was very involved in her church’s ministry. Would she have wanted to make one final difference in the lives of other people? Would she have wanted to make a lasting legacy – one last faith statement? The sisters today wish that they had that conversation with their mom. It is an opportunity lost.
Friends, if you do not have an up-to-date Will, it is not too late. I am happy to share that the United Church has created a booklet that will help anyone who is considering completing a Will. It is called Will Workbook. It is free. You can obtain one (or some for your congregation) by e-mailing me, or Kathie Murphy at General Council Office.
If you want to examine the Will Workbook in Electronic form, click here: WIll Workbook
The truth is, where there is a Will, there is a way … to make your final wishes clear … to look after your loved ones … and even to create a lasting legacy of faith. Please don’t delay.
* Thanks to former colleague Deb Hopper for this idea.
**These fees, called probate fees, are charged on assets that are not properly designated in a Will, or held without a named beneficiary (registered funds and insurance may have a named person to receive the assets when the owner dies).
*** Taken from Textbook for course entitled, Strategic Gift Planning Bootcamp for Major Gift Professionals, October 2015. Norma Cameron and Janice Loomer Margolis.