Ideally an estate plan is reviewed every few years, or when a major life event occurs. Such a life event may be the birth of a child, a marriage, or loss of a spouse either through separation or death. A list of the major items that should be reviewed in your estate plan when going through any of the major life events are discussed below.
When you have children, who will care for them if you are unable can be the most difficult decision to make. As is often the case, people will name the other parent as the primary guardian but the alternate guardian can require a bit more care in decision making. In addition, sometimes the other parent is not the ideal choice, particularly in the case of blended families. Identifying your choices for guardianship and codifying them in your Will is an extremely part of your estate plan as it is one of the few ways of ensuing your wishes are known. Further, not providing a guardian can result in the Public Guardian getting involved.
If you have a blended family, you will want to ensure any half-siblings or step-parents and grandparents can have access to the children, if they so desire.
The law in Alberta is fairly clear that a person’s estate is obligated to provide for his or her children while they are dependants. A child can be a dependant for his or her entire life if they have a disability, or until the age of twenty-two if they are attending school. In certain situations grandchildren and great grandchildren may claim support. This obligations continue past death and your will should contemplate this event if you are currently paying child support.
Unlike child support, spousal support obligations are not binding on an estate unless the Separation Agreement or a Pre-Nuptial Agreement provides for it. However, if you lose capacity you may still be liable for spousal support payments.
Jointly Held Property
Property that is held as joint tenants will automatically transfer to the other name on title upon the death of own owner. In the event of marital breakdown, it is important to determine if you will switch to tenants in common (whereby each party owns a specific percentage and can therefore bequeath that percentage) or if one name will be removed.
When a major life event occurs, it is important to review the beneficiary designations you have on your investments such as RRSPs, RRIFs, LIRAs or even life insurance. You may want to add your children or remove a former partner from the designation as these assets will fall outside of your estate and will therefore not be included in any matrimonial property or support obligations.