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Estate Planning for Single Women: CHOOSE Your Estate Planning Advisor

Estate planning for the single female at any age or relationship status has some unique elements that require particular attention. As well, the now aging baby boomers represent a significant demographic cohort in the population both in terms of the absolute number of individuals and total wealth under control. Women are the future of Canadian estate planning and single women will increasingly be making most of the decisions about wealth transition.

In this series of articles, I will examine some specific areas of consideration for single females planning their estates including:

  • Do A Will!!
  • CHOOSE an Estate Planning Lawyer
  • CHOOSE Your Estate Trustee
  • Powers of Attorney are Very, Very Important
  • Planning for Your Heirs & Beneficiaries
  • Building Your Advisory Team
  • Incorporate the Long View In Your Planning

CHOOSE an Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning isn’t simpler just because you are single. In fact, it may be more complicated to ensure your goals and objectives are properly achieved. In Ontario, many other areas of law impact on estate planning including family, tax, corporate, cross border and trusts. Work with an estate planning lawyer who has expertise in all facets of estate planning (or is part of team that can provide those technical skills) to help you in the process. The Law Society of Ontario certifies some lawyers as Trust and Estate Specialists or seek out practitioners with additional designations such as a TEP from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).  

I highlight the word “CHOOSE” in capitals for very very specific effect. This is a choice you make and it is every bit as vital as the other choices you will make in the estate planning process. Choosing is a very intentional act. It suggests you have decided what is important to you in your planning and estate process. Have you made any effort to decide what is actually important to you in an advisor? Most people don’t and simply choose based on referral or fees.

Consider my previous post “I’m single, do I really need a will?…..Yes!” – in that post, I review some of the things you my wish to achieve that will not happen if you don’t have will. Do any of those choices resonate with your planning? How will your advisor assist you in achieving those outcomes? What added value do they bring? Is that a skill or value set worth looking for in an advisor. Almost certainly the answer is…YES!

We tend to default to people we trust. Malcom Gladwell has a new book out entirely on this form of decision making. It’s useful and we should be thankful we choose on trust or nothing would ever be achieved. However, before we get to that point, before allowing trust to take over, consider having a checklist of key skills or values that must be confirmed before you engage your advisor.

Here are some questions you may wish to consider as you build your personal list of advisor assessment questions:

  • “Describe the last conference you attended that wasn’t purely technical in nature and what was the attraction to that conference?”
  • “In respect of the previous question, how have you integrated the learning from that continuing education into your estate planning practice?”
  • “In addition to your professional (legal) credentials, what other credentials or training have you obtained that has broadened your perspective and skill sets in estate planning?”
  • “What is the process you use to bring purpose into client planning?”
  • “I am worried about blind spots and biases I may have in my decision making. Please describe how you’re process helps to reduce my risk of making these mistakes?”
  • “Can you share an example with me where you engaged the rising generation in your client planning to maximize successful outcomes?”
  • “What is your process for keeping me updated on changes in the law and thought leadership in planning that may be relevant to my evolving situation?”

This is a very small possible list. There are many added questions you can insert to bring real value to your process. It is essential that you be engaged as a client and become an advocate for your own planning. I discuss this in my book under the process of the “Abundant Estate”.

We live in an age of credentials and these can help ascertain the added training (in addition to experience) that has been obtained. As noted above, some provinces and states have certification programmes for specialization in estate planning or trusts. Check the appropriate law society/bar association webpage in your area to see what lawyers have these certifications. In Ontario, estate and trust certified specialists are here. There are many other certifications including a TEP designation from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP).

This is a sampling for the lawyer that will draft the legal documents you need to achieve your planning goals. There are other advisors that may be in the planning circle as well, including:

  • Tax advisors to help you minimize the tax cost of the estate plan after you have identified and explored your key objectives;
  • Investment advisors and counsellors to discuss the integration of your plan goals into your financial structure;
  • Business transition advisors and Family Enterprise Advisors (FEA) to help transition family business assets and minimize conflict;
  • Insurance professionals to help you bridge the liquidity gaps created by your current situation and where your planning will take you;
  • Private and commercial bankers to assist with funding and leverage opportunities to transition assets from generation to the next;
  • Mediators and facilitators to help you succeed in family governance and decision making;
  • Conflict resolution experts to manage family or situational dynamics that are volatile.

There are other professionals that may be needed to achieve the planning outcomes. Choosing those advisors requires every bit as much intentionality as choosing the estate planning lawyer. This is why understanding your strategic goals and values from the outset is so very critical to achieve planning and advisory alignment.

In the next of this series, I take a look at CHOOSING Your Estate Trustee...more capitals….now you know why, it’s really, really important.

Chris Delaney, B.A., LL.B., B.Ed., TEP, FEA is a Professional Keynote Speaker and author of “The Naked Opus: Growing Your Family Wealth for the Long Term” (2018). His next book “Twenty Estate Planning Mistakes Everybody Makes” is due in Spring, 2020.

The scenarios created in this article are fictional and meant for illustration only. Any similarity to any person is purely a coincidence. The suggestions and considerations in this piece are intended for general information. Your specific situation will be unique and every reader should consult with their own estate planning professionals including lawyers, accountants, insurance professionals and financial advisors for advice on which they can rely to achieve their specific estate planning goals. Not intended as legal or tax advice.

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