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Couples should take time to plan for the death of a spouse

Financial advisers say it is important for Ontario couples to discuss their finances and be prepared for the death of a spouse. Otherwise, the loss of a spouse can put an enormous financial strain on the survivor. Reports indicate that many Canadians do not have wills. Excuses often heard include not being able to decide on an executor or a specific guardian because a person is afraid they will change their mind.

Even when a person has a will, the will doesn't ensure that a surviving spouse will have ready access to cash and that bank accounts won't be frozen. Estate planning is more than simply creating a will in order to determine how assets will be divided. A proper plan will also consolidate all financial information into organized records available to those who need it.

Estate plan records should include detailed information on bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement plans and all other financial resources. The information should be well documented and a copy left with relatives and a lawyer or other professional. User names and passwords should also be included for online accounts. Estate plans should take advantage of any tax-free savings or retirement accounts. By designating a beneficiary, proceeds can go directly to the beneficiary and not be tied up in probate.

How the affairs of an estate are handled shouldn't be left up to chance or litigated in court. Preparing a proper estate plan is the only way a person can make sure that their wishes are carried out, that surviving spouses are taken care of and assets are distributed according to the benefactor's wishes. Anyone who needs help in preparing such a plan may want to use the services of a lawyer who has experience in estate planning.

Source: The Globe and Mail, "Preparing for death: Tips on how couples should plan their finances", David Friend, August 29, 2014

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