The combination of Canada’s aging population and continued technological advancements has resulted in more quality tools available to help in the estate-planning and administration process.
It’s important for financial advisors and investors to understand how these tools function as they can use them to their benefit.
Willful is a cost-competitive online service that allows users to get expert help in creating their own wills. Willful’s team includes lawyers from across Canada, but users don’t interact with a lawyer directly.
Similarly, LegalWills.ca provides users access to wills and powers of attorney templates so that they can create their own estate-planning documents and store copies of them online securely after they have been executed.
Although these services might lack personal connection and personalized legal advice, they may be a suitable alternative to formal lawyer-assisted estate planning for individuals who favour convenience and expediency.
But it’s not only traditional wills that must be considered during the estate-planning process. With the advancement of technology also comes the prominence of digital assets and the importance of considering information, photographs and other documents stored electronically.
As most provinces have yet to implement legislation that facilitates estate trustees’ access to these assets, digital estate-planning tools come in to assist users in storing the information required to access online accounts and other platforms where documents of financial or sentimental value may be stored.
Programs such as Everplans are available to store login information and can arrange for the release of information to a specified individual should something happen to the user. Some platforms also have their own mechanism for providing access after death, such as Facebook’s legacy contact or Google’s inactive account manager.
Despite the existence of these tools, it may be advisable to address the issue of authority to access and to administer digital assets within estate-planning documents themselves by including terms specifically authorizing an estate trustee or another individual selected to act as “digital estate trustee” in case the person appointed to administer other estate assets may not be particularly tech savvy to do so.
Estate administration tools
It’s inevitable that many Canadians will act as estate trustee and be responsible for gathering assets, paying off liabilities and administering the estate of a loved one in the best interests of his or her beneficiaries at some point in their lives.
In some cases, people may also choose to appoint their trusted advisors, who are presumably already familiar with their assets, to act in this capacity.
If estate trustees distribute the assets of an estate before satisfying legitimate estate liabilities, they may become personally liable. To avoid this liability, they’re often advised to advertise for creditors.
Although advertisements for creditors have historically been placed in newspapers, they’re now frequently published online through a service called NoticeConnect. By using the tool, the notice can be found upon a basic Google search, with a larger audience base than newspapers.
Still, issues ranging from delay and expense to a presumption of revocation may arise if an original will cannot be located after death. NoticeConnect’s Canada Will Registry, launched in May, can assist in the prevention of scenarios in which original documents cannot be located.
This tool has been developed in an effort to provide a country-wide system for finding wills. Its aim is to provide a role like other will registries that have have gained popularity in other jurisdictions in Canada and abroad – such as in British Columbia, where the province’s Vital Statistics Agency maintains the wills registry.
After enough documents have been registered on NoticeConnect’s Canada Will Registry, it’s expected that lawyers, trustees, banks and the government will use the platform to search for and locate wills.
Ian Hull is co-founder of Hull & Hull LLP Barristers and Solicitors in Toronto and a certified specialist in estate and trust law and civil litigation. His firm developed Hull e-State Planner, an all-in-one estate-planning tool for legal professionals.