Ten Financial Steps To Take Before You Die

Getting your estate in order will make things easier for your family after your demise


From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

November 24, 2010 at 6:32 PM EST

I don’t want to ruin your day, so forgive me for talking about your demise. You see, I have known a few people in the past year who have passed away. I’m often one of the people who receives a phone call from a widow or widower looking for help three or four weeks after the funeral. Do yourself a favour and get your own financial house in order so that things are easier on your family after you’ve gone. Here are the top 10 things to consider.

  1. Your will

When you pass away, your family should look after the funeral or memorial first, but then they’ll have to focus attention on finding a copy of your will. Make sure your will is up to date and make sure your executor knows where to find the executed copy, and knows which lawyer prepared it for you.

  1. Your assets

Your executor will have to gather information on what assets you owned at the time of your death. Make sure you prepare a complete list today and update it annually. Make sure your family knows who your financial advisers are since they may look to those advisers for help in dealing with your assets after you’re gone.

  1. Funeral costs

Your family will be in a fragile state emotionally when you pass away. It may be difficult for them to negotiate funeral costs at that time. Solve this issue by planning your funeral today. You can even prepay for your funeral if you want. Visit a local funeral home to discuss it.

  1. Bank accounts

If your spouse shares a bank account jointly with you, he’ll be able to access the cash immediately after you pass away. Joint bank accounts make sense for this reason. Consider making the bank account(s) used for day-to-day expenses joint accounts. Also, ensure that any corporation bank accounts have more than one signing officer so that those accounts can be dealt with efficiently upon your death.

  1. Life insurance

If you own any insurance policies, make sure your family knows the name of your insurance adviser. Further, make sure at least one insurance adviser knows about every policy you might own, whether he sold it to you or not; ask him to keep a record of this information for you. This will make it easier to ensure all policies are paid out upon your death.

  1. Government benefits

Three types of benefits may be available to your surviving family members. If you’ve contributed to the Canada Pension Plan, there will be a death benefit (a one-time payment, to a maximum $2,500), a survivor’s pension (a monthly pension paid to your surviving spouse, averaging about $300, but which can be as high as about $560), and a children’s benefit paid to a surviving child (a monthly benefit of about $215 a month per child under age 18 or up to age 25 while still a student). Your family must apply for these benefits after you’ve gone.

  1. Registered plans

Any registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) or registered retirement income funds (RRIFs) owned by you at the time of your death can generally be transferred on a tax-free basis to a registered plan in your spouse’s name (or to a dependent who is a minor or has a disability). Simplify things for your heirs by reviewing your named beneficiaries today to ensure the right people will receive these assets when you’re gone.

  1. Employment matters

Your family should call your employer to determine whether there are any amounts owing, such as salary, vacation pay or bonuses. They should also enquire as to whether the employer can pay any amounts as a tax-free death benefit (up to $10,000 can be received tax-free where it is considered a death benefit in recognition of an employee’s service). Let your family know this, and let them know who they should contact at your office in the event of your passing.

  1. Your debt

Have you purchased insurance to pay off your debts in the event of your death? If you’re insurable, make life easier for your family by doing this. Term insurance (the cheapest) is just fine if the debt has a term to it and is expected to be paid off in the future.

10.  Summary of information

Much of the information you’ll want to provide about assets, contact names, and so on, should be summarized in one document. Ask your lawyer or funeral home if they can provide a document for gathering this information.