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Sara Plant, from BMO for Building Blocks. Credit: Rosa Park (Rosa Park/Rosa Park)
Sara Plant, from BMO for Building Blocks. Credit: Rosa Park (Rosa Park/Rosa Park)

Earlier discussion

Do you need a will? Add to ...

No one likes to make plans for an untimely death, particularly for it striking tragically at a young or middle age.

But taking the time to put together a proper will is an essential part of sound financial planning, says Sara Plant, vice-president of wealth services at BMO Harris Private Banking. It's also considerate to your loved ones.

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"You want to make sure you are not leaving your family members in a mess," she says.

Not having a will can trigger higher costs, avoidable delays and even potential squabbling among family members as to who gets which parts of the estate. If people have small children, it is essential for them to have an updated estate plan that chooses a guardian for them, as well as instructions on how and when the parents want the children to receive their inheritance.

Ms. Plant joined us at noon (ET) for a live online discussion. Your questions and her answers appeared in the space below.

Ms. Plant graduated from Queen's University law school in 1988 and has since completed tax and wealth preservation courses, as well as the Canadian Securities Course. She left her private law practise to join the world of private banking in 1994. At BMO, she specializes in the areas of estates and trusts, and prior to her current role was part of the senior management team leading the GTA Wealth Services group in its provision of estate and tax planning services.

She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children and has a current will because they love travelling, skiing and tidal bore rafting.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements.

Sonali Verma, Globe Investor: Hello, everyone, thanks for joining us today for this discussion on estate planning and writing a will. Let's get started.

Average Tony writes: I would like to see comments about the do-it-yourself will kits.

Sara Plant: It really depends on the kits. Some are more helpful than others.

I am not a big fan of kits because if people try to go beyond very basic planning in their will, the kits often don't accommodate their intentions. For example, if you felt that a trust was needed for someone, because it would not be appropriate for them to receive the money all at once, there is special wording that needs to go in the trust paragraph. The "Average Tony" usually doesn't have the knowledge to word it properly.

So if your wishes are really straightforward, a kit is better than no will at all. But going to a lawyer to have one drafted for you is still the best route.

Walter writes from Toronto: I have two married daughters - one with children and one who will likely never have children. When the childless daughter dies her estate will go to her husband, and eventually to his family - who don't need the assets. How can I design a will so her assets will eventually go to her nephews and nieces - our grandchildren?

Sara Plant: That is a tricky one. If your will gives a share of your estate outright to her, you no longer have control over who she wishes to benefit from her estate, should she pass away.

The only way to really control the "path" of your estate is to hold your daughter's benefit in a trust rather than paying it outright. She could earn an income from the trust for her lifetime and perhaps have access to some of the capital, but when she passes away, the trust in your will reads that any funds remaining are to be paid to your grandchildren.

James MacNeil writes: Within the laws of Quebec:

1. Is my hand written will, witnessed by a person who holds no staeke, not notarized, as valid as one made by a notary or lawyer?

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