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Estate planning during a pandemic

Guidance from an estate lawyer

Photo of Marilyn Piccini Roy

Montreal lawyer Marilyn Piccini Roy, Ad. E., LLB’82, BCL’83, describes the global COVID-19 pandemic as “a reality check” for her clients. She’s noted an increased interest in wills.

“There were several files languishing or stalled,” says Piccini Roy. “The pandemic has been a catalyst to jolt clients into a more proactive mode.”

Piccini Roy is a Partner at Robinson Sheppard Shapiro LLP, and the head of the firm’s Estates, Wills and Trusts Practice Group. She’s recognized as a leading lawyer for trusts, estates, wealth management, and tax planning, and serves as counsel to private clients, trust companies, philanthropists, and individual and institutional trustees.

“We’re staying home. Some of us are busier than ever – working and looking after children. But for others there are fewer distractions, and people are taking the time to go over their estate planning.”

For those who find estate planning is suddenly top-of-mind, Piccini Roy is sharing her professional expertise.

Who should have a will?

Categorically, everyone. Everyone who is an adult and capable.

But for some it is more pressing: the elderly, and those who are frail or ill. Parents of young children who haven’t had the time to plan. Parents of adult children who have outdated wills. And those going through additional life changes, such as a separation or divorce.

What should people know about not having a will?

If you should pass away without one, your estate becomes an intestate succession. Intestacy is like driving a car and handing the keys over to someone else to an unknown destination: you lose control of your estate, and decisions are made by the law or the court. They will determine who administers your estate, how it will devolve, in what proportions, and to whom. You lose the opportunity to name a tutor for your minor children, and they will have access to your estate at 18.

In short, it is the perfect storm of unintended consequences, which can lead to conflict, hurt, misunderstanding and litigation.

If someone does not currently have a will, or it’s not up to date, what can they do?

Contact a professional: a lawyer or notary with expertise in estate planning. We are currently doing all consultations by phone and by video, and it’s proving to be quite efficient. Financial advisers and accountants can also provide helpful advice.

I recommend to start by compiling lists: one of your assets and liabilities, and the other naming the family members, friends, and charities you wish to recognize. If applicable, locate your current will and your marriage contract.

What should people consider when planning their estates?

My top priorities are:

  • Naming your liquidator(s) and their replacements
  • Considering a trust, as well as who would serve as trustees and replacements
  • Settling matrimonial property issues, especially in blended families
  • Evaluating tax consequences
  • Discussing a charitable bequest

What advantages are there to leaving a charitable bequest in your will?

There are clear tax advantages; a charitable bequest can lessen your tax burden. Additional benefits include giving back to the community, setting a positive example for children and grandchildren, and the personal satisfaction derived from philanthropy.

The pandemic has realigned our values and priorities, which is a good thing. At the same time, uncertainty regarding jobs, investments and health has seriously harmed charities – they’re more in need than ever. Once our economic bearings are restored, I hope it will mark a shift towards altruistic action. 

Considering a charitable bequest? Learn more.

What will your legacy be? Learn more about legacy giving.

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