The cost of an unprepared estate

Frank was four years into his retirement when it happened. No warning... no prior symptoms even. His left arm suddenly felt different, heavy. Then he tried to speak, and the words - were they words? - baffled him. Frank was having a stroke. Unfortunately, he was alone and by the time the paramedics could administer treatment, significant damage had occurred.

British Columbia has more people turning 50 years old today than at any other time in history.

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The bulk of our population is heading towards retirement, and with that massive migration to the senior years comes some sobering realities.

While we know tragedies occur, our inner defence mechanism tells us they only occur to others.

That false sense of invincibility can lull us into a complacency regarding estate preparation.

"In Frank's situation, he had already taken out an Enduring Power of Attorney - so his spouse was legally able to make changes to his vehicle's insurance coverage. But if he didn't have that power of attorney, she would not have been entitled to make those changes and the car would have sat there. Many couples are unaware that there are legal and financial decisions a spouse simply cannot make for their incapacitated partner without a Power of Attorney or Representation Agreement," cautions Kevin Holte, director of community outreach for Canada Purple Shield.

Canada Purple Shield is a leader in educational workshops on end of life issues and Canada's largest supplier of financial arrangements for preplanned funerals.

Another problem besides complacency is underestimating the legal complexities of estate planning. Instead of using the experts, people are winging it, with disastrous results.

Take Joanne for example:

"She and her three siblings had read about joint ownership and its usefulness for avoiding probate fees. Their father owned some acreage in the Cariboo, and the family wanted to put it in trust upon his death. Without consulting the experts (unless one considers the internet an expert), Joanne arranged for joint ownership of the property between the adult children and the dad. Upon dad's passing, not only was the estate required to pay probate fees, but the trust option they were planning for was nullified by the joint ownership agreement. The family lost out on both hoped-for outcomes (avoidance of probate fees and property put in a trust) and has spent $5,000 in legal fees to try to fix the mess," warns Holte.

"Getting our affairs in order may not be the most exciting item on our weekly to-do list. But it is important. There are far too many of us tossing the dice with an older, unreviewed will, no power of attorney in place, no cremation or burial instructions and poor estate advice. And who suffers? Our families."

Assman's Funeral Home is hosting their Living Well & Leaving Well Workshop covering the basics of end of life planning on Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. at 1908 Queensway.

To register, call Assman's Funeral Home at 250-564-4431.

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