The Most Important Roles For Estate Planning: Who To Choose?

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    There are several important roles in estate planning, and you need to think carefully about who to choose for each role. In this article, we’ll outline what those important roles are and tips for how to choose the right person for each role.

    Overview of the most important estate planning roles

    As the testator, you have the responsibility when creating your will and power of attorney to fill the key roles to make your documents legal. These important roles include: 

    • A trusted executor for your will 
    • A loved one as a guardian for your children and pets
    • Your beneficiaries, or those who will receive something from your will 
    • An ethical and responsible power of attorney 

    How to choose an executor

    An executor or personal representative of an estate is the person responsible for carrying out your wishes as stated in your will. They are in charge of the probate process and then distributing funds to the individuals you have chosen as beneficiaries and representing your personal, business and financial interests, after you pass. Typically, this role is fulfilled by a family member or a close friend, such as a spouse or sibling.

    When you're choosing someone to be the executor of your will, there are a few important things to think about: 

    1. First, pick someone who feels comfortable with the job and can handle making important decisions during tough times. 
    2. Second, make sure that they are available physically and mentally to do the job. 
    3. Third, trust, trust, trust. Trust is key–make sure you choose someone you believe will follow your wishes and represent you well. 
    4. Lastly, make sure to review your choice regularly, especially if big life events happen that make you want to update your will or pick a different executor.

    Important qualities to look for in an executor 

    Choosing an executor involves considering a number of important qualities. 

    They should be trustworthy and honest, and you should feel confident that they won't twist the truth or misinterpret your intentions. An executor with integrity will do what's right, even in tough or stressful situations. 

    They need to be well-organized to handle paperwork and important dates. Their availability is also crucial, as being an executor can feel like a part-time job that can last several years. 

    It can be beneficial if your executor has financial knowledge, although it’s not essential as they could seek help if they need it. 

    Your executor should also possess effective communication skills and remain calm under pressure while being firm in holding parties accountable.

    To read more about the important qualities of an executor, you can read our article “What Is An Executor Of A Will? Everything You Need To Know”.

     Is an executor the same as an estate trustee? 

    An executor and an estate trustee are different roles, but they can be done by the same person (on Willful, you choose one person to do both jobs). The executor takes care of the whole estate process, which can take between 12-18 months, and then their job is done.

    If you have young kids when you pass, Willful creates something called a testamentary trust, which would be managed by the estate trustee. This trust holds your assets until your kids reach a certain age, and the estate trustee manages this trust.

    The executor's job ends after the estate process, but the trustee might be involved for a longer period of time.

    How to choose a guardian 

    A guardian is one of the important roles to consider because it is the person or people that will look after your dependents, like your kids or your pets, when you’re gone. 

    Choosing a guardian involves several steps: 

    1. First, set aside time to discuss your values and what's important to you. Consider potential candidates who align with those values and can provide a loving and stable home. 
    2. Second, narrow down your list and include your partner, if applicable, focusing on making a decision rather than finding a perfect one. It may be difficult to imagine anyone else taking care of your loved ones. 
    3. Finally, have open conversations with your chosen guardian and backup options, ensuring they are willing and capable of fulfilling the role. Since this is a big decision and commitment, remember to receive your chosen guardian(s) consent before finalizing your decision in your will.

    Important qualities in a guardian for children 

    The qualities that are most important in a guardian will reflect what’s most important to you. So this will be a very personal decision. 

    However, there are some questions you can ask to help you narrow down your options, such as: 

    • Is this person at a stage in their life where they would want to be a parent? 
    • Could this person manage our children in addition to their own children, if they have them?
    • Do they have a stable financial and home situation? 
    • Do they match the values that we set out? 
    • Would they be open to taking on this role? 

    To read more about choosing a guardian for children, you can read our article “How To Choose A Guardian For Your Children in Your Will”. 

    Important qualities in a guardian for pets 

    For many pet owners, having a pet can feel just like having a child. You love them and want them to be taken care of after you’re gone, so choosing a guardian for your furry friend is important. 

    When someone passes away, a pet guardian takes over the ownership and care of their pet. Pets have important needs like being properly fed, going to the vet, and exercising. Choosing a guardian that can fulfill these duties, as well as show your pet the love they deserve, is most important. 

    To read more about choosing a pet guardian, you can read our article “What Is A Pet Guardian In A Will?"

    How to choose beneficiaries 

    The beneficiary or beneficiaries outlined in your will are the people who you choose to pass on your property or belongings to after you die. 

    Many Canadians choose family members or loved ones as their beneficiaries, but you can also choose a charity or organization, via a legacy gift. Common beneficiaries include spouses, children, family members, and other important individuals in your life. Your executor will ensure that your wishes are carried out accordingly.

    When choosing your beneficiaries, it’s most important to think of the people and organizations that you value the most, and who you believe would benefit from receiving part of your estate after you pass. 

    How to choose a power of attorney 

    A Power of Attorney (POA) is an important document that gives someone else the right to make decisions for you if you’re unable to do so yourself. It's a way to plan ahead and protect yourself in case of accidents or medical emergencies. 

    When choosing a power of attorney, consider someone who can handle the responsibility and make tough decisions about your health and well-being. They may need to decide on medical procedures, manage your care, and represent you in court.

    For the attorney handling your finances, choose someone organized and capable of making critical decisions. 

    Remember to review and update your power of attorney as life changes, and make sure your attorney is aware of the tough decisions they may need to make.

    Important qualities in a power of attorney

    The most important quality in a power of attorney is trust, so people often select a spouse, family member, or close friend who has their best interests in mind. 

    Make sure your chosen attorney is legally qualified, accessible, and able to act quickly in emergencies. 

    To read more about choosing a power of attorney, read our article “Power Of Attorney (POA) in Canada: The Complete Guide”

    Can I choose a different power of attorney for different purposes? 

    There are two main types of powers of attorney: one for personal care and one for property. 

    The person chosen for the power of attorney for personal care will make decisions about your healthcare, housing, and other needs when you can't communicate. 

    The power of attorney for property will handle your finances, including paying bills and managing investments. 

    There are different requirements and names for these documents in different provinces. You can choose between a general power of attorney, which ends if you become incapacitated, or an enduring power of attorney, which continues even if you're mentally incapable. You can read about the differences between a general and enduring power of attorney here

    How to choose a power of attorney if you have unique needs 

    Some people have unique healthcare or medical needs that may require additional consideration when naming their power of attorney. 

    For instance, transgender, gender diverse, and non-binary individuals face significant barriers when it comes to accessing adequate health care in Canada. Therefore, it’s essential that the person named as a power of attorney for healthcare agrees with and deeply understands the individual’s wishes and their lived identity, their unique healthcare needs, and the barriers that the individual has and will face when receiving treatment. 

    You can read more about some of the special considerations for 2SLGBTQIA+ couples and individuals in our article “2SLGBTQIA+ Considerations For Estate Planning”. 

    Can I choose the same person for multiple roles in my estate plan?

    In general, it depends on the role! 

    One thing to note is that to make a will and power of attorney document legal in Canada, you must have two people witness the documents. It’s important to note the requirements for choosing witnesses, including: 

    • Your witnesses could be any two adults, such as friends, neighbours or co-workers.
    • The witnesses cannot be a beneficiary of the will, the spouse of a beneficiary at the time of signing, or a minor. 
    • Each witness must be at least the age of majority and mentally sound.

    Your two witnesses can be related to you, or each other, and reside at the same address, as long as they meet the above criteria. 

    You can read more about choosing witnesses in our article “What Is A Witness and Who Can Witness A Will?”

    Can an executor also be a beneficiary? 

    Yes, it is common for an executor to also be a beneficiary in a will. In fact, when there is a simple distribution of an estate, such as most of the estate passing to a single beneficiary, it’s common for that beneficiary to also be the executor. 

    Can an executor be a power of attorney? 

    There are some misconceptions about the difference between an executor of a will and a power of attorney. But in short, your executor and power of attorney can be fulfilled by the same person. In fact, this is often the case given that the qualities required for each role are often similar, and often fulfilled by a spouse or close family member. 

    Who has more power, an executor of a will or a power of attorney?

    In Canada, a power of attorney cannot override a will. Legal restrictions and rules prevent an attorney from taking advantage of their position, and they can be held accountable for not following the instructions in the power of attorney document. 

    An attorney cannot make or change your will, alter life insurance beneficiaries, or appoint a new attorney on your behalf. Additionally, an attorney's role ends upon your death, and the executor takes over the responsibility of managing your assets and estate at that time.

    Do I need to notify someone if I picked them for a role?

    Given the importance of these roles, and the large commitment that is required from the individuals that you choose to fill them, you should notify them if you have selected them for a role. 

    What if I change my mind, and want to choose someone else for a role? 

    No problem! 

    As your life changes, it’s expected that your decisions may change over time. With Willful, you can make easy updates to your will and power of attorney documents, anytime, for free.

    Now that you have all of the information required to choose people to fill the most important roles in your estate plans, it’s time to get started! Sign up for Willful and complete your legal, online will in just 20 minutes. 

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