Calgary Estate Planning Lawyers | Litco Law
What is Estate planning and why is it important?
Estate planning is more than writing a Will, although that is an important part of the process. While both services name beneficiaries and include instructions about estate administration, they are very different. Planning your estate goes several steps further. A well-thought-out estate plan includes your wishes in the case of loss of capacity, trust administration, appointment of guardians, debts and taxes, disability, and so much more. By planning ahead, you can simplify the transition of your assets to beneficiaries, as well as reduce the taxes and expenses of administering your estate. In the case that your wishes are not properly documented prior to the time of your passing, these decisions will be dictated by the Alberta courts and can profoundly affect your loved ones for many years to come, both personally and financially. At Litco Law, we will work with you to craft a comprehensive estate plan that ensures all eventualities are considered. An estate planning lawyer will help you choose an estate plan that’s right for you and take care of the legal work, putting your mind at ease about the future.
Estate – the legal term for an individual’s assets which may include land, money, and various possessions at the time of that person’s death.
Estate plan – a comprehensive set of legal documents that clearly state how you want your affairs to be handled at the time of your passing, or, in the event of your physical or mental incapacity.
Our Calgary estate planning legal services include:
- Wills and Personal Directives (living wills)
- Naming an Attorney and Personal Representative
- Testamentary (estate) trust administration
- Establishing trusts for minors
- Appointing guardians for minors
- Appointment of trustees
- Preventing/lowering the risk of estate litigation
- Business succession planning, including corporate assets or shares
- Estate and inheritance tax planning
Personalized Estate Planning
At Litco Law, we understand that every estate plan is just as unique as the individual preparing it. Estates differ significantly in terms of their size, types of assets, and the folks involved. We will review your personal circumstances, what is important to you, any issues your family or business may be facing, and create a personalized plan. Our Calgary estate lawyers will help you create a plan that aligns with your overall financial picture and, most importantly, your wishes for the future. We are equipped to offer virtual estate planning, wherever you are – through phone, email, and video conferencing. If you have questions about planning your estate, or how to get started, call or email us today for a free consultation.
Estate Planning In Alberta
The laws around estate planning differ between provinces. In Alberta, planning your estate involves at least three main documents (although there may be more): a Will, an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA), and a Personal Directive (PD). Estate planning includes not only the handling of your affairs after your death but also matters while you are alive, such as potential loss of capacity. Our estate planning lawyers will be able to answer all your questions and help you navigate the complex legal aspects. We have the knowledge and experience to ensure you have all the facts, and we’ll also look at what not to do. We take a personal and comprehensive approach to the planning process in order to ensure all assets and eventualities are accounted for, so you can rest easy knowing you are well prepared for the future.
Alberta has many laws that specifically apply to estates, and many more that may apply depending on the circumstances. The main laws are:
- The Surrogate Rules of Court;
- The Estate Administration Act;
- The Wills and Succession Act; and
- The Trustee Act.
The Surrogate Court is a division of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta that deals with Wills and estates. There are specific rules that apply at Surrogate Court, and specific forms to use in that venue; an experienced probate or estate lawyer will be well-versed in the laws and forms. Surrogate Court Forms are found at www.qp.alberta.ca; search for “Surrogate Rules Package.”
What is a trust, exactly?
A trust is a legal arrangement that appoints a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of the beneficiary and carry out the trustor’s directions for managing the distribution of those funds. Trusts are an excellent way to disburse your assets according to your wishes, rather than leaving it up to the courts. Let’s say you want to leave an inheritance for your child that supports them as a minor while also ensuring they don’t receive too much money too soon. You may instruct your trustee to make regular monthly payments from the trust to support your heir until they reach an age where they can responsibly handle a larger sum of money – say, age 25 or 30. An irrevocable trust is generally not considered taxable and usually passes outside of probate, thereby allowing access to assets more quickly, reducing court fees, and potentially reducing estate taxes.
Trustor – the person who holds the estate and determine the particulars of the trust.
Trustee – a third-party you appoint to oversee the trust and carry out the duties of passing payments to the beneficiary.
A Word on Wills
A valid and current Will is the cornerstone of a complete estate plan. This document will dictate the distribution of your estate, the care of your children, business succession, and any charitable donations of your choosing. Life gets busy. No one wants to think about their own death, but your will ensures that your wishes for your estate and family are realized. In Alberta, if a person dies intestate (without a will), the Wills and Succession Act will take over to decide the next steps.
What many people don’t realize is that, in Alberta, their spouse will not automatically inherit their estate. Consider the following situation. Let’s say Mark, a married engineer in his mid-thirties with two small children and a baby on the way, intends to leave everything to his wife if he passes. Unfortunately, he is tragically killed in a car accident before writing his Will. After several months, the courts finally rule that his wife will inherit $200,000 from her late husband’s estate. It is decided by the courts that the remainder of Mark’s estate will be divided equally among the couple’s three children. Since the children are minors, their inheritance is placed into a trust administered by the court until they turn 18 years old. This means that Mark’s widow must apply to the courts every year to access money in order to pay the bills and cover the costs of raising a family and, every year for the next 18 years, the courts will charge administration fees. This is just one of many scenarios. In other cases, both parents might pass unexpectedly and without the presence of a Will, it would be up to the courts to assign guardianship for the children. The key takeaway is that writing a Will is the most important step in protecting those you love.
For a Will to be effective, it needs to clearly state your wishes, be verified by the courts (also known as probate), and be easily accessible (a handwritten letter hidden in the attic is not helpful). Your Will should include the name of your executor, who you want your assets to go to, and the age at which beneficiaries will receive their inheritance. If you have dependent children, it is very important that you name the guardian(s). Finally, you may want to include any special wishes you might have for your burial and funeral.
If you die without a Will, this is known as “dying intestate”, and the courts get to decide who your beneficiaries are and how your assets will be divided.
Choosing A Personal Representative
In Alberta, the term ‘personal representative’ refers to the more commonly known role of executor. This person, usually named in the Will, is responsible for carrying out your last wishes, as well as managing and distributing the deceased’s property and assets. Many of these tasks are related to financial matters such as taxes and various related paperwork, so you will want to select someone you can trust to be able to handle these responsibilities after your passing. You may wish to include a specific amount from your Will as payment to the personal representative for the level of responsibility and work they have taken on.
Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) vs. Personal Directives (PD)
If you become incapacitated by illness or injury and you are no longer able to make rational decisions in your own best interests, the law divides your life into 2 parts – your financial matters on the one hand, and everything else on the other. The Enduring Power of Attorney deals with financial matters such as your house, mortgage, bank accounts, debts, bills, insurance, etc., and the Personal Directive deals with non-financial matters like medical care, where you live, who you associate with, whether they will keep you on life support, and so on. If you have these documents set up ahead of incapacity, then you have a smooth transition that ensures your wishes are followed, but if you don’t, your family needs to hire a lawyer to apply for an Order to appoint a Trustee (for financial matters) and a Guardian (for non-financial matters). The cost of those is around 10 times the cost of the Enduring Power of Attorney and Personal Directive.
How much does Estate planning cost?
At Litco Law we believe in complete transparency – you will always know exactly what to expect before you commit to working with us, so there are no surprises. Lawyers’ fees for estate planning vary depending on the size and complexity of the estate, the local rates, and the experience of the lawyer. Estate lawyers typically charge either a flat fee, or a percentage of the value of the estate, or a combination of both. Keep in mind that failing to prepare your estate can be costly. Without an estate plan in place, your sudden passing or your sudden inability to make competent and rational decisions for yourself due to illness or injury could have a lasting – and costly – impact on your loved ones which may include the following:
- Increased estate administration costs
- Your estate may not go to your chosen beneficiaries
- Minors may receive their entire inheritance at age 18
- Greater risk of estate fighting or litigation
- Loss or damage to your business
- Increased taxes
If you need help with estate planning fees or forms, or if you have questions about how much it costs to plan an estate in Alberta, call or email us for a free consultation.
We Are Calgary’s Estate Planning Lawyers
The issues surrounding estate law are complex and can be confusing. You may have many questions such as, “Do I need estate planning?”, “What are estate lawyers’ fees in Calgary?”, and “How much does it cost to set up a Will Alberta?” Whether you already have some estate planning in place or are looking to write your first Will, or you have questions about Alberta estate law, we can help. Our experienced Calgary estate lawyers have been helping Albertans with estate law issues for decades. We understand Alberta estate law inside and out, and we’re here to take care of the legal work and paperwork, so you can focus on taking care of yourself and your family. Our initial consultations are free, so it won’t cost you anything to find out if you need the help of an estate lawyer. Call or email us today to speak to a lawyer and get all of your estate planning questions answered.