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Among other things, the pandemic has sharpened attention on the importance of long-term planning, including wills and estate planning, and the problems that can arise due to a lack of preparedness.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Pandemic prompting many Canadians to seek specialized advice from Trust and Estate Practitioners

With the COVID-19 pandemic prompting many Canadians to put their estates in order, qualified professional advice is critical to ensuring the legacies they leave are sound.

People of all wealth levels are addressing estate-planning strategies that they might have been putting off, with the guidance, co-ordination and expertise offered by Trust and Estate Practitioners (TEPs).

“We’ve found a more urgent desire to get things closed off,” says Corina Weigl, a TEP who is a partner in the trust, wills, estates and charity group at the Toronto law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin. “The pandemic is bringing to the fore the need to take the long view in terms of estate planning and a better understanding of the problems that a lack of preparedness can cause. People are investing the time now to get it done.”

The pandemic is bringing to the fore the need to take the long view in terms of estate planning and a better understanding of the problems that a lack of preparedness can cause. People are investing the time now to get it done.

Corina Weigl
TEP, Partner, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, Toronto

They are turning to members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP Canada), which promotes high professional standards in the complex and growing field. These 3,000 specialists in inheritance and succession matters include financial planners, lawyers, accountants, tax advisers, trust officers, banking and insurance professionals. They offer practical advice for people at all asset levels; indeed, even simple estates can create complications and ill feelings if left to non-specialists who just occasionally deal with trusts and estates.

Estate planning “is a bit of a puzzle” and is critical for people of all ages, Ms. Weigl comments. It includes drawing up a will that achieves your wishes, taking into account legal obligations and tax efficiencies. It also means looking at your overall goals for preserving, protecting and ultimately transferring your assets – for example, by setting up trusts and making gifts during your lifetime – as well as anticipating possible future incapacity.

Powers of attorney for health are in greater focus today, Ms. Weigl says, given the use of ventilators and other medical intervention in COVID-19 cases. “Families should have conversations about treatment decisions,” she advises, and a power of attorney for property is also critical.

Under COVID-19 emergency measures in provinces such as Ontario, execution requirements for wills and powers of attorney have changed so that witnessing can happen using video conferencing and via “counterparts,” where each person signs copies of identical documents.

Estate-planning strategies include using insurance and philanthropy to bring tax benefits. Glenn Stephens, a TEP who provides tax and estate-planning support to insurance advisers as vice-president of PPI Advisory in Toronto, says insurance policies can be a “financial tool” to cover hefty tax bills payable upon death. Charitable giving can help worthy causes while also reducing tax liabilities, he says, and bequests can be combined with insurance so the donations come in cash.

[Charitable giving] enables people to have money when they need it in their estates and to preserve their legacies. It’s important to have a plan that works.

Glenn Stephens
TEP, Vice-president of PPI Advisory, Toronto

“It enables people to have money when they need it in their estates and to preserve their legacies,” Mr. Stephens says. “It’s important to have a plan that works – and that’s easier said than done.”

He says people today are focusing on “what-if scenarios” and are motivated to act more quickly than they otherwise might have. TEPs can offer multidisciplinary perspectives, he points out. “We all have different advice to bring to the table.”

It’s important to ensure that estate-planning strategies fit with people’s current situations, Mr. Stephens adds. Plans must be periodically revisited, especially as circumstances change, and family members should be included in the discussions.

Professionals with the internationally recognized TEP designation are invaluable in the process, Ms. Weigl notes. “You have to be able to listen and ask the right questions to get the right results.”

She hopes the current health crisis may increase awareness about the importance of estate planning going forward. “The process isn’t as scary as people think.”


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with FP Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.