Entourage: lawyer

Tips for dying right

Make your will easy to find and introduce your lawyer to your accountant

Barry Corbin as interviewed by Dana Lacey

Financial Post, June 27, 2009

FP profiles the best people to surround yourself with to better your odds of living longer, healthier and wealthier. This week, in his own words, Barry Corbin, a Toronto lawyer and estate-planning specialist, talks about death, family secrets and the legal implications of obscure burial requests. Coming up: a broker.

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself legally is quite simple: Make sure you keep accurate records of all your financial affairs. Be aware of the many triggers either in your financial or personal life that may warrant a review of your estate plan. If you’ve developed a close enough relationship with your lawyer, he may know instantly when something of consequence happens that may affect your plan. But people should be aware that births, adoptions, deaths, marriages, separations, divorces — all of these issues may well make the current estate plan not obsolete, but at least deficient.

A lawyer, accountant and financial planner walk into a bar…

Be sure to introduce your lawyer to your other advisors — your accountant, financial planner, investment advisor and insurance agent. Your estate planning process may well need info from one or more of them, so it’s ideal when your lawyer can talk to them and they can talk to your lawyer. This way, you can be sure that nothing falls between the cracks. If your lawyer doesn’t have all the facts, he goes about the estate planning process with one hand tied behind his back. Also, think about introducing your lawyer to other members of your family, because on passing, there is suddenly all these people who may have roles to play — executor or beneficiary of the will — and it’s helpful if the lawyer is already known to them.

A private audience for your secrets

You have to be open with your lawyer. The client should be comfortable talking about everything and anything, including attitudes toward children, knowing that the matter is confidential and will never leave the confines of that room, subject to some court order that it be disclosed. Secrets can be explosive, but the estate plan gets skewered when information is not disclosed.

Will you be will keeper?

When you choose an executor for your estate make sure you talk to the person you have appointed–don’t let it be a surprise. What have you accomplished by naming someone you trust but who doesn’t have the time or inclination to act? And make sure your executor knows where the original will is. Photocopies won’t do. Some lawyers don’t like to keep wills in their possession — they don’t want the liability. But if you’re the last person to have your will before you die, and it can’t be found, the law assumes you’ve destroyed it. So, it’s really important to safeguard the will and tell people where it is. It’s not like real estate, where if you lose a copy of the deed, you can always get another one from the land registry office.

No moon burials for you

It may surprise you to know that the executor is not bound to follow your funeral and burial requests. Knowing this, don’t put your burial instructions in the will and expect them to be carried out. It is the executor’s responsibility to act reasonably, to pay off debts and distribute the estate. If the will says, “I want my remains to go on the next shuttle to the space station,” it would be irresponsible for the executor to obey. So, trust your lawyer. They are not simply scribes to put down what you want on paper. They bring added value to the process. They say, “I’m going to tell you what you need and it might not coincide with what you want.” I remember one client whose instructions were that his son would receive $50,000, but if he shows up at the funeral wearing an earring, he gets only $25,000. I can write it in the will, but that doesn’t guarantee a legal obligation.

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