Burial, Cremation or Composting?

Seriously, somebody has come up with the ridiculous idea of composting human remains. It’s about as natural as can be, in theory – it doesn’t involve sophisticated containers and chemicals like alkaline hydrolisis, another ridiculous novelty.

Just because something is possible doesn’t mean we should do it. But people being people, ever imaginative but not necessarily sensible, somebody’s bound to try it, like cryogenics.

forest grave site marked by cross
Simple wooden cross on nature grave in the forest
A more legitimate and much less yucky alternative to chemical embalming and energy intensive cremation is green burial. How would you rather end up, as soil around your sister or son’s begonias or nurturing a forest somewhere?

Me? I’d prefer neither. I’d like to be placed in a tree, dried out by the sun, food for the ravens and racoons. I like the idea of bones falling to the ground eventually and being scattered too.

November is Make A Will month

Fall is in the air. The sun is setting earlier, the leaves are changing and it’s cool at night.

Fall is a time for gathering the harvest and anticipation of winter. It’s a time for looking after things, canning, storing, putting things in order for later use.

There is no better time of year than this to do your Will and Powers of Attorney, which are important tools in planning and managing your life and finances.

We are here to explain the process, answer questions, get you started and help you complete the process. These two articles have some useful tips about why Wills are important and how to get started.

The Ontario Bar Association is responsible for the November Wills month program: http://www.oba.org/makeawill

The law firm Hull & Hull have posted this useful article about the importance of wills and powers of attorney.

Posting bond: another good reason why you need a Will.

Bond-posting4willsWhether you have a lot of assets or just a little, the people you are leaving behind will most likely have to obtain what used to be called “probate” but is now called an Appointment of an Estate Administrator In order to deal with your stuff. Anything over $10,000 in value will usually require a Court appointment, which authorizes someone (an Administrator) to deal with your assets. Often the court will require that the Administrator post a bond, which is like an insurance policy that ensures that debts of the estate are paid and that the right beneficiaries receive what they are entitled to. This is especially true if there is no will.

Even where there is a Will, a bond may be required if the named executor lives outside of the province of the deceased. (A good reason to choose someone nearby to be your Executo. The bond creates a guarantee that the Executor won’t leave the jurisdiction without paying bills or distributing the estate to the beneficiaries.

The reason the court requires a bond is that where there is no Will, any number of issues may arise as to who the proper beneficiaries may be and what assets or share of the assets they are entitled to. It may be difficult to determine what assets there are, whether in real estate, bank accounts, investments, etc. and whether there are any outstanding debts. So the courts typically require that a bond be obtained before they will grant someone authority as Estate Administrator without a Will.

A bond is a form of insurance policy that an executor buys and getting one a complicated and expensive business: it is hard to find an insurance company that will issue one; the application process is difficult; the premiums are expensive (typically three years of premiums must be paid in advance) and once the estate is settled, it is difficult to remove the bond, the Court must approve.

When applying for appointment as an Estate Administrator, you may request that the bond which would otherwise be needed should be waived. It is wholly up to the judge who looks at the file but your chances of being relieved of the trouble of getting a bond are better if the beneficiaries agree in writing to the bond being waived, and if you can show that the deceased’s debts have been paid in full.

Applying for “probate”, i.e. appointment as an Estate Administrator, is a complicated process generally and it’s a good idea to get professional help. Cost will generally be in the $2000 – $5000 range depending on the size and complexity of the estate and the number of beneficiaries.

Wills for folks on fixed incomes

Wills aren’t just for people with money. Even if you live on a fixed income and don’t have much in the bank or many possessions, you should have a will.

Here are some good reasons why:

  • a will appoints someone to be in charge of wrapping up your affairs when you’ll not be there any more to do it yourself. This person is called your Executor because they “execute” on your wishes;
  • a will can specify the kind of funeral and burial you would like, which is a nice thing to do, but also can be very important if you want particular things or your religious beliefs require certain things;
  • if you want to be cremated, a crematorium may need to see the will to make sure that is actually your wish;
  • banks, investment companies and even your phone company may need to see a will before they will close your account or release funds to anyone other than you;
  • Everyone comes from somewhere and a will can be a place to list next of kin so someone can contact them when your time has come;
  • even if you don’t have many things, someone needs to look after them and your family and friends may be confused about who should be in charge; your will clearly makes someone responsible.
  • giving a special momento or something of sentimental value to a child or special friend can have great meaning to them;
  • even a small sum of money given to an organization or cause you support can make a real difference, creating a lasting legacy.

elderly-person-holding-pills-in-handBut if you are on a fixed income, we know money is tight. It can be hard to get a will done affordably. We have a special plan for people on fixed incomes. We can’t do it for free but we’ll come as close as we can. Please use our C
Contact form to get in touch.

I’m young, single and don’t have much stuff. Do I really need a will?

Yes, you do. There are many good reasons.

The first reason is because without a will, it can be difficult for anyone to deal with things like closing bank and other types of accounts, e.g. email, websites, phone, Google, Facebook, or to make funeral arrangements or decisions about cremation or burial.

Another good reason is that these days single people can often be closer to non-family than family. You may want your close friends and companions to look after things as well as have some or all of your stuff.

Yet another good reason is that you can leave something to the good causes you believe in. Imagine if everyone did this. Even modest legacy gifts would add up to make a difference.

A will does not have to be complicated but everyone you care about will benefit from the clarity you create by having one.

Below are more particulars about the legal rules of inheritance in Ontario.

In Ontario, if one passes away without a will, the laws of intestacy dictate who inherits that individual’s assets. These rules are governed by Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act. Where a person dies intestate and leaves no spouse or issue, their property is distributed in the following order: parents, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, and finally, next of kin. Where a person dies intestate with none of the mentioned relations surviving, their property escheats to (i.e. becomes the property of) the Crown.

“Depending on the person, the rules of intestacy cannot be assumed to adequately reflect an individual’s wishes. Without a spouse or children of their own, the individual likely formed bonds in the community that are not reflected by the rules of intestacy. For example, close friends or the children of close friends may be a more practical choice.

“Single persons may also have preferred charities or other social or community activities they belong to that they wish to benefit that will only benefit under a will.

– above from here.

DIY WIlls: Your handwritten (holographic) will may be valid, but the critical thing is the form.

Lawyers will advise against writing your will yourself. Although a handwritten and signed will can be legally valid, they are not wrong to warn you. Unless you know the formalities of Wills and are careful with the language, there’s real risk your DIY Will won’t do what you want it to, or be legally valid at all.

A happy story of a beautifully hand-crafted Will is that of James Smithson, whose will created the venerable Smithsonian Institute, a treasure forever for the people of the United States:

“James Smithson wrote a draft of his Last Will and Testament in 1826 in London, only three years before he died. He died on June 27, 1829, in Genoa, Italy, where he was buried in a British cemetery. The will left his estate to his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, and stated that if his nephew died without an heir, the money would go ‘to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge ….’ After his nephew died without an heir, Smithson’s estate did come to the United States and a debate began about what this new institution would be.”

Latin: the importance of “legal” language

Latin is a lovely language. Here’s an example of the kind that graphic designers use as a placeholder where the actual text is going to go: “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Maecenas non rutrum orci. Vestibulum nec justo nunc. Sed ornare, libero eu blandit tristique, turpis enim volutpat metus, posuere rutrum magna mi non mi. Nulla vitae est ut nunc fermentum laoreet. Mauris ac urna id urna elementum congue et sit amet neque. Maecenas porta neque massa, in pharetra nunc commodo ac. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. Proin dictum urna leo, in aliquet magna pulvinar eu.”

Wills don’t need to be written in Latin, but they do need to be clearly written, unequivocal about what they mean. For example:

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