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Estates & Wills & Trusts

A celebrity example of proper estate planning

While legendary singers Aretha Franklin and Prince died without wills, there is a celebrity that set a good example for others to consider when it comes to estate planning, says Toronto wills and estates lawyer Matthew Urback.

“Paul Walker is that unusual case where he spelled out his wishes clearly. It’s especially interesting because he died so young and unexpectedly,” Urback tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Walker, best known for the Fast & Furious movies, reportedly drafted a will when his daughter was three, more than 10 years before his 2013 death in a car crash at the age of 40, says Urback, an associate with Shibley Righton LLP.

“He left a detailed will and instructions concerning his young daughter,” he says. “Getting a will in place early should be happening more than it actually does.”

Aside from his litigation practice, Urback also drafts estate plans and wills. He says many people who approach him for this service have recently had a child.

“Their primary concern is who is going to look after my child if something happens to me,” he says.

In Walker’s case, he left his estate to his daughter and appointed a guardian for her, according to a CBS News report.

When it comes to leaving assets to your children, many parents are now specifying the age at which the estate proceeds will flow to the child, Urback says.

“Some are deciding to delay the gift, and some are also giving out portions at ages 18, 21 and 25,” he says. “It’s a way to protect the child in case they aren’t ready to inherit a chunk of cash, and in Paul Walker’s case, millions of dollars. They may not spend it wisely.”

Urback says news that Franklin left no will and the chaos that can cause, along with a lengthy wait to divide assets, may provide an incentive for people to talk to an estate planner.

“People don’t like to confront their own mortality, but you must do so to get your affairs in order,” he says.

While each jurisdiction is different, Urback says if you pass away without a will, the way your assets are distributed is laid out by statutes.

In Ontario, the Succession Law Reform Act, states that the first $200,000 is given to the deceased person's spouse unless there are dependent children, he explains.

If there is no spouse and no descendants, the deceased person’s parents inherit the estate equally, says Urback.

“If you have no family at all, your assets go to the Crown,” he says. “If you don’t have a will, everything will be distributed in accordance with what lawmakers have decided, versus what you want to happen.”

That’s why Urback is a proponent of individuals speaking to their family beforehand about their wishes.

“It can be something that prevents a significant amount of stress down the road,” he says.

Urback is handling a case in which a child was not in the will, and the parent left everything to charity.

“It appears there was a falling out between the two,” he says. “The child is disputing the will, saying the parent didn’t have capacity at the time they signed the will.”

By talking about your wishes with family, it may prevent a future legal battle, Urback says.

“This example, and that of celebrities passing away without wills, should give the public reason to think about their estate plans,” he says.

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