A will is the most important piece of estate documentation that exists. British Columbia residents who fail to draft a will before they die are leaving a complicated situation for their loved ones to try and sort out — a situation that could result in disgruntled family members or even lawsuits as potential heirs try to assert their inheritance rights in court. However, completing a will is not the be-all-end-all of estate planning. There are some equally important details that also have to be dealt with before one dies, especially regarding the beneficiary forms on financial accounts.
What many British Columbia residents fail to realize is that their Registered Retirement Savings Plans, Tax Free Savings Accounts, Registered Retirement Income Funds, Insurance Policies and other financial accounts may have special beneficiary forms that need to be filled out and kept up to date. It does not matter what is said in a will; the information contained on financial account beneficiary forms will supersede any directive laid out in a will. Even if someone says that all of his or her assets shall be bequeathed to his or her new spouse in a will, if the beneficiary form on a retirement account says that the assets will go to an ex-wife or a now-estranged family member, by law the account assets will still go to that person.
Many estate plans have gone awry in British Columbia as a result of a beneficiary form that someone forgot to update. For that reason, at Garton & Harris, revising and updating beneficiary forms is something that we take seriously. We always ask our clients questions to identify whether there may be a missing beneficiary form or financial account that needs to be updated or changed. If you are not sure whether your beneficiary forms are up-to-date, you may want to speak with an estate planning lawyer immediately.