The 12 Documents of Christmas

For this month’s issue of the Martens Report we thought we would put a festive twist on your estate plan (although some would question if there is anything “festive” about this topic). We’re sure you have heard the song, “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Today we’d like to talk about the “12 Documents of Your Estate.” Let’s make sure your “Five Golden Rings” get to the right place. Our emphasis is to ensure your loved ones know how to find your will, your money, (and your golden rings)… and that nothing goes missing. This happens all too often when someone passes on. There are many questions that require answers, but the only person with all the answers is not here anymore. You really love your family and friends, so taking the time to get your estate organized is an important task that will ensure you don’t leave them with a big mess to sort through during such an emotional time. To make sure this doesn’t happen to your family, we recommend having the following key documents safely stored together in a place where they can easily be found: 1. Your Will: Outlines who gets what when you die. It also appoints guardians for your underage children. Without a will, your assets will be divided according to provincial law, not your own wishes. Worse, your children might end up not living with the guardian of your choice. 2. A Power of Attorney - Health: Spells out how you want to be treated if you are unable to make decisions about your own health (e.g., whether you want to receive life-sustaining treatments like respiration or resuscitation or whether or not you want organs donated). 3. A Power of Attorney - Property: Gives someone the power to make financial decisions for you in the event you’re no longer able to do so. Without this document, the courts will have to appoint a guardian to look after your affairs, and that can take a lot of time — and money. 4. Proof of Ownership: Gather together all documents that show you own your house, land, vehicles, and any other assets. Without these, your family might not know what you own or be able to prove it. Spell it out for them. 5. Six Years of Tax Returns: Tax returns give your executor a sense of the assets and finances that are part of your estate. 6. List of Bank Accounts & Safety Deposit Boxes: According to the Bank of Canada, at the end of December 2014, there were approximately 1.5 million unclaimed bank accounts, meaning the banks cannot locate the account owners, topping some $577 million. You want your family to be able to find your money — show them where it is by listing all your accounts. 7. Investment Statements & Savings Bonds: Hang onto your investment account statements and store them safely with your certificates (if you have any on paper), so your family can easily determine exactly what you own. 8. Pension, Retirement & Annuity Documents: Help your family access any remaining retirement benefits they are eligible for. If you are receiving money from an annuity, pension plan or other retirement plan, the contract will help your beneficiaries understand what they are entitled to and from which income source. 9. Insurance Policies: You bought insurance so your loved ones would be financially covered when you die. Please be sure to keep copies of all insurance-related documents on hand so they will know what policies you have. 10. List of Debts & Loans: This will ensure your family won’t end up having any unwanted surprises down the road, such as debts they did not know about. 11. Marriage License &/or Divorce Papers: Legal proof of marriage and/or divorce can make it easier for the Executor of your estate and for your family. Surviving spouses are also entitled to significant tax savings when receiving an inheritance, but your (perhaps aged?) marriage license may be needed as proof. 12. An Estate Directory: This is a listing that consolidates and organizes all the information about your affairs and your estate, so that your loved ones are able to easily find everything. All the information needed to settle your estate can go into this document. You would list items such as where the previous 11 documents are being kept, which professionals to call (i.e. Lawyer, Accountant, Financial Advisor, etc.), as well as items such as your utilities or what on-line accounts need to be shut down. Here is a sample of the Personal Record Keeper we normally supply to clients that can help get you started. Having matters organized ahead of time is the best way to ensure nothing goes missing when the time comes for your family to look after your affairs. With the holidays upon us, this tends to be an opportune time to let your family know how and where these important documents are kept. As always, please feel comfortable contacting us if you need any help organizing your estate. Thank you, Andrew & Peter

#estateplanning #retirementplanning

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