SENIORITY: Almost half of British Columbians have no will

Only 55 per cent of British Columbians have a current and legal will, according to a province-wide poll.

Only 55 per cent of British Columbians have a current and legal will, according to a province-wide poll.

The research was conducted in March by Mustel Group for the Society of Notaries Public of B.C.

The poll coincided with the province’s proclamation that March 31 to April 6 was “Make a Will Week” to encourage more people  to create a will or bring an existing one up-to-date.

Mustel polled 502 adults, and found 20 per cent of people in the 18-34 age range, 51 per cent between 35 and 54, and 83 per cent of individuals 55-plus have a will in place.

“A will is the best way to ensure that the people, charities or non-profit organizations you care about receive the benefit of your estate,” said Akash Sablok, president of B.C. Notaries and a notary in East Vancouver.

If there is no will in place, or the will is not properly prepared, an estate may not be distributed as the signatory intended.

“I’ve witnessed first-hand the tremendous angst and difficulty a family experiences when there is no will,” said Sablok.

It can take years to unravel and sort through, at excessive cost to the survivors.

An even greater concern is the lack of a will leaves children vulnerable to wait in foster care while courts decide on a suitable guardian.

Contrast that to the simplicity of a will, which authorizes someone to secure your estate and fulfill distribution in the manner you wanted.

The will also empowers you to nominate someone you trust to take immediate care of your minor children.

The costs of administering the estate may also be higher if a legally enforceable will does not exist.

“A carefully planned estate can eliminate or at least reduce stress, taxes and conflict amongst loved ones of the deceased,” says Laurie Salvador, a notary in Sidney.

“Without a will there can be doubt, anxiety, stress, hurt feelings, and delays in administering the estate. There is even uncertainly about what the final funeral arrangements should be and who should pay for them. The kindest thing you can do for your loved ones is to leave your affairs in good order.”

Make-a-Will Week 2014 coincided with the Wills, Estate and Succession Act, which came into effect on March 31.

WESA streamlines seven acts into one, intended to provide certainty for individuals who put their last wishes into writing, and clarifies the process for distributing estates where there is no will.

The new act also:

• allows the court to recognize a document as a will even if it does not meet all the standards usually required to make a will;

• helps courts ensure a deceased person’s last wishes are respected;

• and lowers the age at which a person can make a will to 16.

With some of the laws about interpreting wills changing, those who have a will written before March 31 may wish to review it with a notary or lawyer to make sure their wishes can be upheld.

“Most people are surprised at how easy it is to create a will, once they set their mind to it, and find the process leads to important discussions and decisions,” said Brendon Rothwell, a Kelowna notary.

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