We talk about the importance of having an up-to-date will, and often help clients complete new wills. A recent experience served as a reminder of the importance of having a will and ensuring your executors know where it is.
We worked with a widowed investment client for a number of years. At the beginning of our relationship, we asked if she had a will and she answered yes, and that her daughters were her executors and beneficiaries. Over the ensuing years, she was diagnosed with dementia and, eventually, her daughters began acting as her attorneys under her power of attorney document.
She passed away in the fall. When her daughters advised us, we began the estate processing, which begins with a freezing of the accounts until probate is completed. Probate is required to formalize the appointment of representative(s) to act for the deceased. (The power of attorney is only applicable while a person is alive.)
In this case, and to the daughters’ chagrin, the will was nowhere to be found. The client had moved, so was it inadvertently thrown away when sorting papers prior to the move? Lawyers who may have drafted the document were contacted. To this day, it has not been located.
This necessitated an application to the Ontario court for the daughters to be appointed as estate representatives with no will. Fortunately, the laws of intestacy in Ontario will distribute the estate equally to the daughters, as our client wished. However, the delays in getting to this step are lengthy. Application has been made to the courts, but not yet accepted. We hear of long waiting periods for the granting of the required documents. In the meantime, the investment accounts are frozen, the bank cannot open an estate account to deposit cheques issued to the estate as partial refunds of expenses, and the daughters continue to wait for their inheritance.
We now probe further when discussing estate planning with our clients. We may not be satisfied with a “yes, I have a will” answer – we will ask to see the document! Lesson learned.