Simple vs. Simplified Wills – the true value of an estate plan

The first thing that many of my clients say to me is that they only need a ‘simple’ Will.  They often assume that their situation is not unique or since their earnings are relatively modest, their Wills don’t merit specialized attention.  On the surface that may appear to be a fair assessment, but when I dig a little deeper there is almost always more to consider.  A family dynamic with sibling tensions and rivalries may seem trivial but take on different meaning when viewed in the context of inheritance and gifts to children.  And even a modest estate can benefit from a well-crafted, personalized plan that endeavours to save taxes and fees so more money ends up in the hands of beneficiaries.  I believe that what these clients are really after is an uncomplicated, and simplified plan rather than one that is truly ‘simple’.  They want to understand what is written in the Will without the head scratching that legal language typically induces.

The concept of a ‘simple’ Will is largely a marketing tool used to draw clients in the door.  Once they are comfortably seated, they quickly realise that their true costs will be much higher than expected, or that there are so many exclusions that there is little value to the service beyond technical formalities.  Often at that point, it is uncomfortable for clients to leave when they have invested the time to be there, and possibly signed retainer agreements.  To arbitrarily set an extraordinarily low price for a so-called ‘simple’ Will undermines the value and importance of the legal work involved, and in many cases misleads the client into thinking their estate plan is only worth that low figure.

Instead, the better approach exemplified by the top lawyers  in the industry is to first have an honest conversation and understand the client’s true needs and motivations.  Then, a fair price based on the actual value of the work involved and, if needed, the client’s financial situation, can be presented.  That doesn’t mean that the general public should expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a Will.  If that was the case, almost nobody would have one.  Indeed most Wills and estate plans will be less than the price of the average Canadian family Caribbean vacation.  And the payoff: a lifetime of security and peace of mind.

An Expat’s Life for Me – reflections from my childhood

My early childhood was far from normal.  Born in England, I spent the first 10 years of my life in four cities and moved nine times.  My parents weren’t in the army, nor were they diplomats although our lives certainly mirrored those who were.  We may have had a nomadic existence in those times but were never unmoored for one basic reason – no matter the outside environment our home life did not change.  We ate the same food, kept a similar school routine, and adjusted fairly well.  And the lessons I learned as a result were invaluable.  A product of international school education, it was ingrained in us as kids to respect & value those who are different from us.  My religious upbringing taught us the importance of charity and kindness towards those less fortunate.  My deep desire to provide a secure haven for my children to come home to, is merely a reflection of the stability in my own childhood home.

These early values may be universal in some sense but they manifest differently for all of us.  The particular values that we carry with us through to adulthood will ultimately define the people we become.  It follows that how we manage our affairs is a reflection of the people we are.  Whether we choose to give a portion of our wealth or all of it to charity, prefer to gift property equally or unequally between our inheritors, set up trusts or give gifts outright, the decisions we make are as unique as the reasons behind them. An estate plan should be as individual as the person it is created for.  Trust a qualified lawyer to properly advise and prepare a plan that reflects who you are.