Listing your assets in your Will
- Posted By : Tim Hewson
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One of the most common misconceptions about Will writing is that you have to list all of your assets in your Will, after all, how will everybody know what you have if you don't write it in your Will?
Unfortunately, you have no idea when your Will is going to some into effect; it could be next week, or it could be decades from now, so how will you ensure that you always update your Will every time an asset is changed? This leads to unfortunate situations like the well reported case last year in Florida where a woman listed what she thought was her list of assets, she then stated that "I leave all listed to James Michael Aldrich" . She then wrote a codicil to the Will stating that "I reiterate that all my worldly possessions pass to my brother James Michael Aldrich". But the list of items in her original Will were
- House, contents, lot at 150 SW Garden Street, Keystone Heights FL 32656
- Fidelity Rollover IRA 162–583405 (800–544–6565) —United Defense Life Insurance (800–247–2196)
- Automobile Chevy Tracker, 2CNBE 13c916952909
- All bank accounts at M & S Bank 2226448, 264679, 0900020314 (352–473–7275)
The net result was that there was an opportunity to challenge the Will because there was confusion as to whether the brother was to receive everything, or just the listed items, and if it was just the listed items, then who was going to receive the rest? There was no residual beneficiary.
Most Wills are written in such a way to be future-proof against assets being acquired or sold. A Will can include specific bequests to named individuals, which can look like this
- My Victorian tea set to my grand-daughter Emily
- $5,000 to the SPCA of Montreal
- 10 percent of my estate to my Nephew Thomas Blanc
In the first example, if the tea set is no longer in your possession when the Will comes into effect, then the bequest will simply be ignored. The other two specific bequests are not contingent on any particular asset, so they will still be valid bequests even if items are acquired or sold during your lifetime.
Beyond the specific gifts is the residual estate and this is the catch-all for everything not specifically listed. Every Will needs to have a residual beneficiary because it is impossible to know your complete list of assets at the moment you pass away. Types of residual bequests include
- I leave my entire estate to my wife Mary Jones
- I leave my entire estate to be divided in equal shares between my children
- I leave my entire estate to be divided as follows; 10% to my niece Emily, 30% to my nephew James and the remainder to St Luke's Hospice in Montreal.
If you attempt to list everything you own in your Will, you will need to update your Will each time an asset changes. But this means that your Will then has to be re-signed in the presence of two witnesses every time. You cannot just cross something out on a Will without the annotation being signed and witnessed.
How does your Liquidator know which assets you have?
If you are not including your assets in your Will, then how will the person administering your estate know how to find your assets? This is undoubtedly one of the most challenging parts of the liquidator's tasks. According to the Bank of Canada at the end of December 2013, approximately 1.4 million unclaimed balances, worth some $532 million, most of these are for people who died, but their liquidator had no idea that the account existed.
We recommend that you keep a separate piece of paper stored with your Will that describes your assets. You don't need to include secret information like passwords, but it at least gives your liquidator a chance of gathering up your estate. This is not a legal document, so it does not have to be signed and witnessed every time a change is made; you can cross things out, annotate and even post sticky notes on there, as long as it is a complete record of what you have.
Make sure that you also include digital assets including User account information for things like online photo storage accounts, blogs, or other accounts that generate advertising revenue. You may have online trading accounts, or even gambling accounts. All of these should be listed as assets, they tend to be forgotten in most estates.
Without a list of assets the liquidator will never know when they have completed their task of gathering up the estate. Even when the liquidator is the spouse of the person who has died, there are often forgotten policies or accounts that are never captured as part of the estate.
Taking this simple step saves your liquidator from weeks of anxiety.