It is not unusual with the onset of a cancer diagnosis to want to get financial affairs in order. It is a good idea for anyone – sick or well – to have legal directives in place in case something happens to them. The laws governing estate and financial matters differ from province to province in Canada, so it is a good idea to consult with a lawyer or use online legal information resources that pertain to your home province. Many provinces have legal information websites dedicated to answering your questions. The following are some common legal documents to be considered:
A will is a legal set of instructions that specify how you want your estate (money, property, belongings, pensions, investments) dealt with when you pass away. A will can also include: instructions for guardianship of children/dependents, the distribution of property among loved ones, and gifts or donations you wish to make upon your death. A will usually identifies at least one person as the executor, or the person who carries out the instructions of the will. A will does not come into effect until you pass away.
In most provinces and territories, you must be at least 18 years of age to construct a will. You must also be considered mentally competent. If your cancer is advanced and you are worried about its impact on your mental abilities, it is important to consider making a will before your disease advances. It is also important that the person(s) you are naming as executor is aware you are giving them that role and they are aware of the various aspects of the will.
A will makes your intentions about your estate clear to your loved ones. It can help them in matters of closing bank accounts, dealing with bills or leases, and selling property. Even if you don’t have much money or own property, it is still a good idea to have a will in place. There are on-line “do-it-yourself” wills but be careful of these resources as they can miss key details and are not always valid. Most provinces also do not recognize video or audio recorded wills. It is always best to get legal assistance when drafting a will if you can.
Power of Attorney
A Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives another person the authority to act on your behalf. In a financial Power of Attorney this could involve dealing with bank accounts, tax matters, bills, etc. A Power of Attorney does not take your authority away - you still can manage your own financial affairs as you see fit. A Power of Attorney simply grants another person the ability to step in for you should you be unable to carry out certain tasks or make a financial-related decision. An “Enduring” Power of Attorney clearly states that the person you name as your Power of Attorney has the authority to continue acting on your behalf in the event you are no longer mentally competent.
A Power of Attorney should be prepared by a lawyer. It needs to be witnessed and signed. The person creating the Power of Attorney and the person being named need to be over 18 in most provinces and territories. You must be mentally competent at the time of creating a Power of Attorney. The document cannot be created after a person is deemed mentally incompetent.
A Power of Attorney allows a person you trust to help you navigate and deal with financial matters. It is not a legal or medical necessity but can be extremely helpful to someone going through treatment or experiencing significant illness. There will be times you feel overwhelmed or foggy and need that person to help you with financial matters. The types and extent of activities that person can carry out for you should be clearly spelled out within the document.
Life Insurance Beneficiaries
If you have a life insurance policy, or plan to get one, it is important to clearly identify the beneficiaries of the policy. A beneficiary is the person(s) who will receive the life insurance benefit. If no beneficiaries are named in the policy, the insurance money will be paid to your estate in the event of your death. The money will be divided as per the terms of your will. If a beneficiary (or several) are specified in the life insurance policy, the money will go directly to them. In some provinces there are specific legal requirements if the money is designated to children under the age of 18. It is best to check the legal information website in your home province for details or consult with a lawyer.
Some people, when they fall ill, prefer to take an additional step of transferring partial ownership of property, bank accounts, and other financial items to another person. This is done usually to make ease of transactions and transfer of assets. This is a personal choice and should be done with someone you trust. Preferably, it should also be done with legal advice.
End of Life Plan/ Pre-paid Funeral
Most funeral homes now offer pre-paid funeral packages. This allows you to plan your services and arrangements ahead of time and makes your wishes clear to your loved ones. It also allows you, if you make payment at the time of arrangements, to “lock in” the price at that point in time. It is best to compare services and get several quotes before deciding on a plan.
Be sure to find out what services are included in your package, and what costs may be extra. Often the arrangement of cemetery plot, vault or memorial spot are additional considerations.
This plan and the accompanying receipts should become part of your legal documents and should be accessible to the person you most trust to carry out your wishes. Some people outline their funeral wishes within their will, but it is not a good idea to leave these details just within the will as this document is often reviewed well after a person has passed on.