Regularly reviewing your will is a vital part of estate planning, especially for those in their golden years beginning new romantic relationships, says Cornwall wills and estates lawyer Michele Allinotte.
Allinotte, principal of Journey Law (formerly Allinotte Law Office), says circumstances can change dramatically after a person draws up their will, and those changes can have serious financial ramifications.
“If you have any type of property, you need to look at your will every three to five years or when you have a major life change. When someone leaves your life, when someone comes into your life, or when your assets significantly change — there are many reasons why you need to take a hard look at it and see your lawyer,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“I tell clients to think about their will once a year but every three to five years, you should do a really in-depth sit-down. Look at your assets, and your beneficiary designations. I offer a review meeting every three years at no charge.”
Allinotte says it’s especially crucial for people later in life who are thinking about getting married.
“So many people don’t know that your will in Ontario is revoked by marriage,” she says. “Family members might not know. So if a new marriage is happening, someone needs to see a lawyer.”
Under Ontario law, when someone marries, their will is no longer valid. If a new will is not drawn up, the surviving spouse is automatically entitled to the first $200,000 from the estate, and they must share what’s left with surviving children.
The law can leave the vulnerable open to predatory brides or grooms.
“The level of capacity to get married is significantly lower than it takes to make a will, so you might be able to marry but not have the capacity to make a new will after that,” says Allinotte.
“It doesn’t make sense, and I think there is a problem where the test for capacity to marry is not clearly set out, but the effect is that your will is revoked.”
She says it’s not uncommon for couples to get together late in life, but it can come with obstacles.
“Children sometimes have a hard time dealing with it. There can be animosity, and it becomes really difficult and emotionally charged,” Allinotte says. “Family members may not expect their father or mother will have another partner, but it happens more frequently than people think.”
Despite how awkward or uncomfortable it may be, estate planning is vital, she says.
“You don’t want to put moral judgments on older people entering romantic relationships. They’re allowed to be happy, they’re allowed to fall in love again,” Allinotte says. “At the same time, if there are significant assets, it may be incumbent upon their family members to remind them about that and consider what can be done to prevent the untoward tax consequences and the unintentional unravelling of their estate planning . I don’t think any of that should be done without legal advice.”
Drawing up a new will when getting remarried can also come with its challenges, but “the conversation has to be had,” she says.
“The grand scheme of what they planned may not work anymore. A new relationship can have a significant impact,” Allinotte says. “If you’re thinking about marriage, you really need to talk to a lawyer about what that means in the context of your assets, whether or not you need a cohabitation or marriage contract, and what to do about your wills.
“There’s a very good chance you’re going to need some legal advice and new estate documents at any age.”
Allinotte says, in most cases, couples want to leave the bulk of their estates to their children from previous marriages, and they don’t want their new spouse to face “a dramatic and harmful situation” after they pass away.
She suggests making provisions in the will to take care of future medical or living expenses. If there is a matrimonial home, Allinotte says the couple should decide what will happen to it in the event one spouse dies.
“It becomes a little tricky if you have to remove someone from the marital home,” she says.
“It’s a balancing act. You need to make sure that you provide for your family, and that you also cover all of your potential legal obligations.”
*this article originally appeared on AdvocateDaily.com, by Tony Poland