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Having a plan protects everyone

A survey earlier this year from online estate planning service suggests abysmal numbers for young Canandians who have an up-to-date will: about 16% among 18- to 24-year-olds and about 15% for people ages 25 through 34.

Howard believes the term “estate planning” makes the process seem inaccessible or irrelevant for anyone not of a certain age or with significant assets.

But considering your wishes earlier in life when your needs are simpler will make the process feel more natural and manageable when your life — and needs — become more complex as you age.

“This is key because too many people, over time, as they start to accumulate more assets aren’t necessarily asking themselves these questions,” says Howard. “If part of your life journey is to ask yourself these questions, it will be easier later in life to address [them].”

Vanessa Sarveswaran, vice-president of tax, retirement and estate planning at CI Global Asset Management in Montreal, adds the pandemic is a reminder that none of us know for sure if we will have a later.

Putting a will in place gives you the power to decide where everything from your savings and investments to your sentimental belongings and even your pets will go when you die.

“It is the ultimate tool to ensure that your desires are respected after your death,” says Sarveswaran. “You might make some people unhappy, but you know, it's your wishes, your desires, and the people who love you will respect that.”

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Wills give you a voice after death

While many people wait until they get married, buy a house or have children to draft a will, Sarveswaran says every adult needs one.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people should visit a lawyer and start the process the day they turn 18, but that scenario isn’t far off.

Howard was the first in her family to go to university, and she worked summers and saved tens of thousands of dollars to afford tuition.

At the time, she never considered what would happen to that money if something happened to her. It’s a question she reflects on even now.

“When I think about it … I would want that money to go to somebody in a similar position to mine, who didn't have the resources to be able to go to university because I felt very fortunate,” says Howard. “It starts to evolve in your mind that, wow, I can make a difference. And what kind of a difference do I want to make?”

The process can feel quite satisfying

People with spouses often mistakenly assume everything will go to their partner if there’s no will in place, Sarveswaran says. But that’s not the case. Two-thirds of a person’s assets will go to their spouse, but the other third will go to their parents.

If that’s not how they would have wanted it to go, too bad.

Howard says making a plan for treasured possessions will give you a sense of satisfaction, or at least relief.

“The one thing I'd say is: Do you realize how good this will feel? Once you take this step, you'll be glad you did.”

Leaving an up-to-date record of your wishes is the kindest thing you can do for the loved ones, Sarveswaran says.

“I know we're talking about death; it’s a morbid topic,” she says. “It’s a difficult conversation to have. But really what you're doing is an act of love … it's just a way of making sure your assets go to the right person.”

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