Sask. estate-planning sees a boom during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lawyers across Canada and estate-planning businesses are reporting an increase in business over the last year the compared to previous yearly averages.

"This time last year, March early-April everything went bananas. It really did go crazy, said CEO of Canadian Legal Will, Tom Hewson. "Writing a will is an interesting thing because people generally procrastinate."

Hewson said at the start of the pandemic his business tripled. It has since slowed down but remains about 35 per cent higher in a year-to-year average.

Canadian Legal Wills surveyed 10,000 clients who used his service in the last year and 53 per cent of people said COVID-19 was a factor in making them write their will, Hewson said. 

“You don’t write a will for your own benefit, you write it for the people you are leaving behind and if you don’t write a will you are leaving kiosk behind for you family,” Hewson said.

Hewson recommends people name an executor of their estate and a power of attorney who they trust to make key decisions if one is incapacitated. And if you have children, name guardians for them. People can bestow treasured belongings to specific people, create pet trust funds and specify charitable donation.

Kavina Nagrani, lawyer and active member of the Canadian Bar Association said lawyers in Canada reported an increase in the number of wills done over this last year. When the pandemic started in 2020, her business started booming in the Hamilton, Ont., area. That spike prompted her to start her own practice specializing in wills and estates.

She said the pandemic and working from home has more people planning. She recommends people appoint a power of attorney to assist with financial and medical decisions and tasks.

“The pandemic left people incapacitated in different types of ways. And left some seniors unable to go to the bank for instance,” said Nagrani, founder of NIKA Law LLP.

Bryan Rindal from BTR Financial Planning Manulife Securities Inc. in Prince Albert recommends people get their estate in order as soon as they have assets, even if they are young.

“As soon as those parents are gone, it’s unbelievable the families that break up because someone wanted grandpa’s fishing rod and didn’t get it. Little things can drive families apart,” Rindal said.

He said wills prevent family conflicts and preserves wealth. Rindal added assets are sold and divided and stocks of funds can be sold and dispersed at inopportune times. And if there is no will the estate defaults to the province’s Intestate Succession Act. These plans differ between provinces.

In Saskatchewan according to the Public Trustee’s office for example, if someone dies without a will and they have one child and a spouse, the first $100,000 goes to the spouse and the remainder is divided equally between the spouse and the child. If there is more than one child and a spouse, the estate is divided with the first $100,000 going to the spouse and the remainder is dispersed with one-third going to the spouse and two-thirds divided among the children.

Where a deceased has no known family or heirs to administer the estate, the Public Guardian and Trustee may be requested to administer the estate. When the Public Guardian and Trustee administers the estate, it will charge a fee based on the size of the estate:

· For estates under $50,000, the fee for the Public Guardian and Trustee administering the estate is $1,500 plus seven per cent of the value of gross estates;

· For estates between $50,000-$100,000 the fee is $3,500 plus five per cent of value in excess of $50,000;

· For estates more than $100,000, a fee of $6,000 plus four per cent of the value in excess of $100,000 is payable.

As administrator, the Public Guardian and Trustee will pay any outstanding debts of the deceased from the estate assets and attempt to locate heirs to the remaining assets.

“In most cases, the Public Guardian and Trustee is able to locate relatives who are entitled to inherit. In the rare event that no heirs are located, the funds may be transferred to the Ministry of Finance. In the event family comes forward in the future, an application can be made to the Ministry of Finance to claim the funds,” said the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s office in a statement to CTV News.

Canadian Legal Wills did over 100,000 estate planning documents in 2020 and gave away 7,000 wills to health and education front-line workers. Legal Will asked 10,000 people to participate in a survey about their reasons to form the statistical survey.