Trying to find the best estate lawyer in Edmonton for estate planning and estate administration legal services? Don't be fooled by lawyers who claim they are best rated. Edmonton Estate Lawyer Sam Safi offers a free introductory consultation, plus the following Q&A (click a question to see the answer) on key issues ranging Grant of Probate and Letters of Administration to Personal Directives and estate litigation. You will be relieved to see that there is no complicated or confusing legal jargon, just one more reason why your Estate Lawyer should be Sam Safi.
For additional information on our Wills & Estates legal services, read our Core Legal Services and Personal Representatives’ Duties pamphlets, adopted directly from the Surrogate Rules.
Is estate planning only about who gets what?
Sam: No. There is much more to estate planning than deciding how your property is distributed. There are often tax and insurance issues and everything is more complicated if a business needs to be sold. Plus you need to nominate the person who will administer your property when you are gone. This is the person who can deal with your assets, sell your real estate and your personal property, such as your cars. That person was formally known as executor, but is now called the Personal Representative. Yet another key decision involves what happens to your body once you pass away. Will it be cremated or buried? These are all questions that get answered in a Will.
What happens if you die without a Will?
Sam: In Alberta, there is government legislation that determines who has the right to apply to be your Personal Representative. There is also legislation that dictates who gets what and that often may not be what you actually want, so it is always better to have a Will prepared with the help an experienced Wills & Estates lawyer.
What happens to your children if you don't have a Will?
Sam: There are provisions under the Wills and Succession Act to deal with the distribution of your estate when you don’t have a Will.
How much do you charge to do a Will?
Sam: We charge flat fees for most legal services related to Wills, Estates and Trusts. Request a free introductory consultation to learn more about our fees and legal services.
What constitutes estate planning?
Sam: There are three key documents that form your estate plan: A Will, a Power of Attorney and a Personal Directive -- and I always recommend that they all get done at the same time because you really need all three, and getting them done individually costs more than doing everything at once. An estate plan can also include the creation of a trust and an analysis of tax considerations.
What is a Power of Attorney?
Sam: A Power of Attorney, or POA, allows someone to handle your financial affairs, which includes things like banking, taxes, property, investments and (when applicable) corporate decisions. I should also point out that we now have an Enduring Power of Attorney, which means when you give someone a POA, it will still be in effect even if you lose mental capacity.
What is a Personal Directive?
Sam: A Personal Directive (PD) is similar to a Power of Attorney, but instead of dealing with financial affairs, it deals with health related decisions. You assign someone to be your Agent and that person has the power to make decisions about your health when you are unable to do that because of sickness or injury. Your Agent should be chosen with care because that person will have the authority to make life and death decisions.
What is a trust and how does it fit into an estate?
Sam: Trust are often misunderstood. Generally speaking a Trust is just a relationship between three parties: the person who gives property to a trustee; the trustee who holds the property for the benefit of a beneficiary, and the beneficiary, who ultimately gets the property. For example, an older gentleman who wants to put aside property for his minor children, could give the property to his younger brother, in which case the brother becomes the trustee and he holds the property for the benefit of the children.
What is the difference between Estate Planning with Estate Administration?
Estate Administration is what takes place after you pass away, and a big part of that is Probate, the legal process whereby your personal representative will take your Will to the court and have it approved by the court, which means that all assets and property should be distributed according to the directions in the Will.
Is there a government fee for Probate?
Sam: Alberta is one of the lowest fee jurisdictions in entire North America. It ranges from $35 to $525, depending on the total value of the estate.
What legal fees do you charge for Probate?
Sam: We generally follow the suggested guideline from the Law Society of Alberta for Core Legal Services. I am available for anyone who wants a free initial consult, where I can discuss our fees and answer questions.
What is a Mirror Will?
Sam: Mirror Wills are typically set up by husbands and wives. If the husband dies, everything goes to the wife and vice versa. If both die, everything goes to the children. Mirror Wills are very common and are fine so long as the couple stays married, but if they decide to separate, the Will should be updated.
What if you have a business and want to ensure that the proceeds of that business go to your children?
Sam: This takes some careful planning, typically completed with the help of your accountant, because a key step is tax planning. For example, you might look at setting up an Estate Freeze to transfer any future growth of your company to your children. You can also protect business assets from claims by other parties by careful estate planning.
What happens if tax planning does not happen?
Sam: You might end up paying a lot more taxes than you should. For example, I am currently working with the owner a farming business. He is a very successful and busy farmer, who typically does not pay much attention to accounting or legal issues and usually deals with them at the last minute. But recently his Accountant discovered that, under the current legal set up of his company, a big tax would be payable at the company’s year-end. Now we are working on a new legal set up for the farmer's business that will lead to tens of thousands of dollars of tax savings -- and that means more money for the farmer's family. So there is a great example of how estate planning can actually save you a lot of money.
Is it common for a client's lawyer and accountant to work together?
Sam: Yes, especially if the estate includes a business.
How often should a Will be updated?
Sam: Any time there is a major change in your life.
What is a Holographic Will?
Sam: It is a Will written in your own hand writing. You do not have to follow the usual formalities -- there is no need for a witness, but the document does have to be signed and dated. A Holographic Will is considered an acceptable legal document in Alberta. But there are often issues because the person writing the Will is not an expert in law and will make errors or omissions that lead to problems when the Will is executed, and sometimes these problems lead to litigation.
What are most common reasons why a Will is challenged?
Sam: The most common claim is that the writer of the Will, known formally as the Testator, lacked the mental capacity to write the Will or was under undue influence from somebody involved in the Testator’s life toward the end of their life. A common scenario is that the writer of a Will marries a much younger person and decides to leave everything to that person, and the children by an earlier marriage challenge the Will.
Another common source of legal problems is that the writer used a Will kit -- and I have even seen situations where someone in Canada used a Will kit prepared for people who live in the U.S., which has different estate laws than Canada. These people thought they were saving money by using a Will kit, but in the end they had legal problems and additional costs far beyond what it would cost to have a Will done with the help of a Wills & Estates lawyer.
What are your fees for estate litigation?
Sam: We charge an hourly rate, and given that estate litigation is often complicated and protracted, the costs can add up fast. Sometimes, it is impossible to avoid litigation, but most people will not face that challenge if they have a sound estate plan, developed by an experienced Wills & Estate lawyer. And that is just one more reason why the value and importance of a Will goes far beyond deciding who gets what.
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