When my husband and I discovered that I was pregnant with twins, we began to compile the list of things we would need -- cribs, a double stroller, car seats, not to mention a car. But there was one thing we needed that we forgot about: a will.
The idea of creating a will when you're feeling young, healthy and immortal seems unneccesary and even a little morbid. We certainly had never considered it as a couple in our 20s. In fact, our kids were well into their first year (and we were well into our 30s) when we started talking about which family members might get guardianship should anything happen to us.
And it wasn't until about six months ago (when the girls had just turned three) that we asked my brother and sister-in-law if we could count on them as potential legal guardians. They said yes, of course, but then I mentioned that neither Sean nor I actually had wills.
"You have three-year-old twins and you don't have a will?" my sister-in-law admonished, aghast. I felt sheepish. Did every other set of parents have wills, and we were the only irresponsible ones? Logically, Sean and I knew we needed to make our wishes official, but we had just never gotten around to it. And shamefully, I must admit -- we still haven't.
The Ontario Securities Commission's useful website getsmarteraboutmoney.com offers some tips on the basic steps expectant parents should take to protect and provide for their growing families. If you've got a baby on the way (or you are slacker parents without wills like us), you'll need to decide on your beneficiaries (who will inherit your money or property if you die) and decide who will take care of your children if something happens to both parents.
But do you really need a lawyer? Won't an online form or a simple piece of paper written "of sound mind and body" do the trick? Wills can be tricky, according to the site: "For example, if you are leaving something to someone in your will, that person can't witness when you sign. Even pulling out a staple can lead to questions about your will." A lawyer can ensure that your will is comprehensive and that it follows the tax laws of your province, and he or she can also help reduce taxes that may be incurred after your death and make sure your estate can be quickly settled.
In terms of how much a will might set you back, it's not as much as you might think: $350 for a basic will if you have a small estate (many lawyers will charge a flat fee) and more for more complex wills, when you may be billed by the hour or by a formula. For example, you might be billed a set fee of $2,000, plus a small fee based on the worth of your estate (if your estate is worth $150,000, for instance, you may pay 1 per cent, or $1,500).
If you need to find a lawyer to draw up your will, getsmarteraboutmoney offers the following tips:
1. Ask a lawyer you already use, perhaps the person who helped you buy your home. Even if they don't handle wills, they can recommend someone who can.
2. Ask a trusted source in your life to recommend someone -- your financial adviser, your accountant, your insurance agent or trusted friends, family or work colleagues.
3. Ask your province's bar assocation. In Ontario, you can call the Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-565-4577 and for $6 they will give you the name of a lawyer you can speak with for free. Or, there are websites to help you find an estate lawyer: The Law Society Directory of Certified Specialists (which provides a list of estate law specialists in Ontario), LegalLine or LawyerLocate (which both will help you search online for a lawyer anywhere in Canada).
Once you've found assistance, you may want to consider discussing other legal papers with your lawyer when drawing up a will, including power of attorney and a "living will." If you become sick or injured and can't express your wishes, these documents will lay out who can make decisions about your medical care and who will gain control of your finances. Without the right papers, a bank could freeze a joint account so that no one could access your money in the event of your incapacitation.
Morbid or not, there's really no excuse for Sean and me at this point. We have a lawyer and we're clear on our wishes for our estate and our children -- we just need to put it in writing. Sean hates the idea of getting older (and emphatically refused to celebrate his birthdays after around age 29) but with the birth of our children, my perspective about aging has changed. I'm excited to get older. In my view, I should be so lucky to hit 40, 50, 60, 70 or more, and be able to share in the lives of my children for as long as possible.
Hopefully neither of us will be needing a will any time soon, but for our children's sake, it's time we did the responsible thing and made that appointment.