how to protect your family as you age header

How to Protect Your Family As You Age

Age isn’t quite what it used to be. 

60 is the new 50, 80 is the new 70. There’s been a considerable amount of talk in the media about “miracle” technological advances that cure all types of ailments and promise to keep us alive well into the triple digits. 

There’s no doubt that some of these advances are real and are actually extending and improving our lives, but there’s one thing they’ll never be able to change: accidents still happen, especially as we age.

According to a report by the Canadian Medical Association, nearly three-quarters of Canadians over 65 have at least one chronic health condition, and unexpected accidents like falls remain a leading cause of hospitalizations for people over 60.

Despite these staggering statistics, many people remain unprepared to deal with what could happen to them and their families if they suddenly become incapacitated by an accident or illness, or when they die. 

Recent polls show that the majority of Canadian adults lack basic estate documents such as wills, representation agreements, or powers of attorney. And, many of those who have them need to update their documents for them to remain legally binding. 

As you get older, not thinking about the very real possibility that something could happen to you means you are putting an unfair burden on your family and leaving them exposed to a number of headaches and responsibilities. 

So what can you do to remedy that? Here are five things you can do right now to protect your family as you age.

1. Write (or update) a Will

Wills are extremely important documents. If you don’t have one (or if things have changed since you wrote it or you’re not sure what’s in it or where it is) you should definitely consider getting one (or a new one) as soon as possible.

Wills allow you to express how you want your estate to be divided and help keep an inventory of what you own. This provides a HUGE help for your family and takes the burden of many decisions off of their shoulders.

Perhaps more importantly, wills allow you to select someone you trust to be in charge of executing your wishes. This helps guarantee that your wishes are actually carried out after you die, and helps organize the division of your stuff once you are gone.

2. Write a Power of Attorney Document

Power of attorney documents allow you to authorize someone else to sign financial or legal documents and act on your behalf. This can also be used to buy and sell assets, and sign tax returns if you are unavailable or incapacitated. 

There are two types of power of attorney. While a specific power of attorney is limited to a single transaction, an enduring general power of attorney allows you to choose someone who will take control of all your legal and financial matters if something were to happen to you.

In addition to this, it is a smart thing to do if you are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, other forms of dementia, or degenerative diseases and believe that you may need help managing your daily finances now or in the future.

One small note, a power of attorney doesn’t apply to health care decisions (you’ll need a Representation Agreement for that).

how to protect your family as you age checklist header

3. Get a Representation Agreement

Representation Agreements are legal documents that allow a person (or a group of people) to make personal care and health decisions on your behalf.

This allows someone you trust to manage your affairs if you are incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions due to illness, injury, or disability. It also allows you to dictate your specific wishes regarding your physical, emotional and personal needs, including:

  • Choosing who will advocate for you
  • Giving or withholding consent for medical treatments
  • Where you will live (and with whom)
  • Whether to admit or discharge you from a care facility
  • Planning of support and services
  • Who has visitation rights
  • Care staff management
  • Spiritual matters
  • Whether you want to refuse CPR or have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)
  • End of life decision making
  • Diet and grooming
  • Care of pets
  • Participation in activities and exercise

Without a Representation Agreement, a doctor or health care provider will choose your Temporary Substitute Decision Maker (TSDM) if you can’t make your own decisions.

This person is selected based on the Health Care Consent Act. Your spouse would be the first choice, followed by one of your children.

Your TSDM is required by law to make decisions based on your best interests. However, this person may not necessarily be the person you want, or may not know what type of care or treatment you would prefer.

A Representation Agreement allows you to choose in advance who you want to represent you. Most people choose a spouse, partner, friend or family member in their representation agreement. 

The representative’s main responsibility is to assist a person to make a decision for themselves. This means that before making any decision, the representative is legally obligated to try to determine your current wishes.

If you are completely incapacitated and your current wishes cannot be determined, then your representative will follow what has been outlined in your Representation Agreement.

As a last resort, the representative will make a decision based on what they think is in your best interest while consistent with your values.

4. Get rid of some of your stuff!

Most people tend to accumulate lots of things throughout their lives. While some of these things may hold sentimental value, they also tend to pile up in basements, attics, and closets and are a hassle to deal with as we get older (not to mention a nightmare for those left to do it after you pass).

Downsizing isn’t as easy as “just getting rid of some stuff”. Letting go of your things can be difficult, but it can also be a very liberating process and one that your family (and future you!) will definitely appreciate.

Going over your things with your family members (especially your kids) is a great way to get the ball rolling on downsizing.

5. Get some legal help!

According to the BC Wills, Estates and Succession Act and the BC Wills Variation Act, which legislate estate succession in British Columbia, there are a number of reasons why your estate documents may be deemed invalid by a court.

For example, there could be undo interference (which is when someone influences the writing of another person’s will); formal invalidity (when proper processes aren’t followed); or a lack of testamentary capacity (when someone doesn’t have the mental capacity to legally sign a will).

Regardless of the reason, if a judge declares that a will is invalid, it’s essentially thrown away.

Draftinging or reviewing your documents with a BC Notary can help to ensure your wishes are followed and documents stand up to scrutiny.

The bottom line: if you haven’t created or reviewed your legal documents lately, now is the perfect time!

About David Watts

David Watts is a BC Notary who has practiced in Downtown Vancouver since 2006.  David’s office specializes in working with people to create their Wills, Power of Attorney and Representation Agreements; as well as performing Real Estate Transfers for properties all around British Columbia.  David has trained to receive the Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA) designation. David has been long-serving Director of the Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia and is currently 2nd Vice President.

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Welcome BlueShore Financial To The David Watts’ Team!

We are excited to announce that BlueShore Financial is now working with David Watts Notary as a mortgage lender.

It’s an exciting week for BlueShore Financial as they open their new downtown Vancouver branch, just a few blocks from our office.

What we love about BlueShore is they aren’t your average financial institution – they think differently. One example of this is they have built a unique Financial Spa® which designed to create a calming and relaxing environment. Their branch has soothing sounds of their waterfall, soft lighting, comfortable seating and refreshments. They even sell spa products such as lotions and soaps with proceeds going to BC Children’s hospital.

Blue Shore Financial Spa


You can take a virtual tour of their Financial Spa® here.

We also love that they are a Vancouver-based credit union who donates 1% of their pre-tax profits to local charities and not-for-profits in the local community. Wishbank, one of their impressive programs is a financial literacy program for kids delivered in local schools.

BlueShore Financial will be working with us to provide mortgage solutions. Some features of their mortgages include:

  • Flexibility – choose the right term, from 6 months to 10 years, and the right amortization (as long as 30 years).
  • Multiple payment options – Choose weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly or monthly payments to suit your cash flow. Up to 15% of the original principal can be paid down each year on the mortgage anniversary date. Also, scheduled payments can be increased, on an ongoing basis, by up to 15% once each calendar year.
  • Custom built – If a listed mortgage option doesn’t seem to be what you need, they can build the ideal mortgage solution for you.
  • Portable – Take your mortgage with you when you purchase a new home (with qualification).
  • Assumable – Transfer your mortgage terms to the buyer when you sell (with qualification).
  • Waived legal fees – If you borrow additional funds or choose another BlueShore Financial mortgage, you pay no additional legal fees.
  • Extended financing – Up to 80% of property value or up to 95% if insured by CMHC, with down payments as low as 5%.

If you are interested in finding out more, phone or email, we’ll be happy to discuss.

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5 Most Common Mistakes First Time Buyers Make

5 Most Common Mistakes First Time Buyers Make When Purchasing Real Estate in Vancouver

Buying a new home can be one of the most exciting times of your life, but it can also be rather stressful.

Not only does it mean making a huge financial investment, but it also requires that you make a number of decisions that will impact your life for years to come. This is especially true in Vancouver, where a red hot market, enhanced mortgage rules and new government regulations add extra pressure to the process of purchasing a home.

In this context, understanding the buying process and learning from people who have previously purchased properties in the city are great ways to make the process of buying a house a little bit easier.

That’s why we’ve put together a list to help you avoid making common mistakes when the time comes to buy a new place.

1. Looking around before you get a mortgage pre-approved

Many people start their search for a new home by going onto the Internet, visiting their bank’s website, and using a basic calculator to get an estimate of their mortgage. 

We highly recommend that you do not do this. 

There tends to be a pretty big difference between what the calculator tells you your mortgage will be and what it ends up being in reality. 

That’s why we believe that it’s critical to have your loan pre-approved (not just pre-qualified) before you even start searching for a home. This will give you a better idea of how much house you can actually afford, whilst also showing sellers and real-estate agents that you’re serious about purchasing.

2. Choosing a bad mortgage

In your urge to start seeing new homes, you may be tempted to accept the first mortgage offered to you–but this is probably not a good idea.

Before you start looking at homes, it’s critical that you actually get a mortgage plan that is right for you. While doing this isn’t easy, it will help guarantee that you are purchasing a home that’s really within your means, which is crucial for long-term financial stability.

That’s why we recommend that you shop around before settling on a mortgage. Try out a few different banks; or better yet, hire a mortgage broker that will help you figure out how much you can truly afford, determine what the best mortgage product is for you, and compare options that help you save money.

3. Not using a realtor

Many home buyers make the mistake of trying to fly solo when looking to purchase a home.

While they may have read some articles and done good research about the home purchasing process, they are in no way qualified to do this on their own. 

That’s why we always recommend that buyers hire a real estate agent to help them throughout the purchasing process. Real estate agents will help you find homes that are within your means, negotiate contracts, and provide support every step of the way.

That’s why it’s critical to find a real estate agent that can help you make a smart purchase.

Wondering how to find a real estate agent that will help you purchase your next home? Make sure you read our post on choosing the right real estate agent for you.

4. Making a “Fed Up” Purchase

One big mistake home buyers make — especially those flying solo — is buying properties out of desperation.

These people tend to buy something that’s barely “good enough” for them, rather than something that really suits their needs, just because they’re sick of the emotional rollercoaster of searching for homes.

While this may seem tempting at the time, it is a terrible idea. Remember, you’ll probably be at your new home for several years so it’s important that you purchase something that will make you happy.

Rather than buying out of frustration, stop looking for a while, or heed our advice and hire a real estate agent that can help you look for properties that tick the boxes you are looking for.

5. Forgetting about closing costs

Not budgeting properly for closing costs is one of the most common mistakes buyers make when purchasing property in Vancouver. 

Whether you’re a first time homebuyer or an experienced purchaser, you need to learn about closing costs–and budget for them properly. Not doing this can land you in a heap of financial trouble and can put the approval of your mortgage at risk.

A few months back I put together a comprehensive guide on closing costs for first time buyers. I highly recommend that all buyers take a look at it. The guide provides great detail about the following closing costs:

  • Mortgage application fee
  • Mortgage default insurance
  • Appraisal fee
  • Survey fee
  • Title insurance
  • Property Transfer Tax
  • Property tax and municipal utilities
  • GST
  • Foreign buyer’s property tax
  • Home inspection fees
  • Legal closing fees
  • Land title registration fee

Avoid common mistakes by getting help from a Notary Public

BC Notaries provide conveyancing and other legal services on more than half of all real estate transactions in B.C. and are highly trained and experienced in both simple and complex real estate transactions.

By giving you professional legal guidance on the purchase of a home, notaries will help you navigate through this often daunting process and help make it much easier for all buyers.

Want to know more? Get in touch now.

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9 Critical Reasons You Shouldn't DIY A Will

9 Critical Reasons You Shouldn’t DIY a Will

People who know me know I’m not a DIY fan.

It’s empowering to do something yourself. There is a satisfying sense of accomplishment that comes with the successful completion of a project. I also love cutting costs by doing things on my own, and often learn new skills in the process.

But even an avid DIY fan like me knows that there are some things that I simply can’t do by myself.  I also know the value of working with a professional.

Some of them are obvious. Like open-heart surgery or building an aircraft.

But others aren’t so straightforward, like legal documents. Even as an experienced BC Notary, I know there are certain legal documents that I can’t prepare on my own. I accept that and defer to other experts when I need these documents.

This is why I’m concerned about a growing trend: people wanting to DIY their Wills (often using the internet as their only source of information).

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal: cutting costs, avoiding the hassle of having to see a professional, the satisfaction of learning a new skill. These reasons are valid, but trust me when I say, it’s just not worth it.

In the best of cases, DIY Wills are often ineffective, and seriously hinder the chances that your wishes are followed.

In the worst of cases, they are deemed invalid by the courts and leave your loved ones scrambling to figure out what to do with your estate.

The final decision to DYI your Will is yours to make, but at least you won’t be able to say that I didn’t warn you…

1. It May Affect the Validity of Your Will

In B.C. and in many other jurisdictions across Canada and the United States, certain formal elements must be in place in order for a will to be valid. If the procedures aren’t followed correctly, then the whole will is deemed invalid.

There are legalities to consider, and you’ll need to make some difficult decisions about the future of your estate. It’s advisable to have an expert that can help you understand the legal consequences of your decisions.

2. You May Choose the Wrong Executors or Guardians

Executors play a central role in the administration of a will. Without good executors, the final division of your estate can cause huge headaches to everyone involved. Guardians take care of our Children should we not be there.  Should they be the same person? Do you know why it’s good for them to be different people? Have you thought about checks and balances?

DIY-ing your Will may lead you to make bad or inappropriate choices about executors and guardians.

3. How Much Do You Know About Taxes Anyway?

Many people forget that taxation plays a central role in estate planning and wills drafting. When a BC Notary drafts a will, they can tell you what type of taxes a person will have to pay in estate and transfer taxes, giving you the information to adequately divide your estate.

Without understanding how taxes work and what role they plan in estate transfers, there’s a chance you may be burdening your loved ones with heavy taxes.

4. When It Comes to Wills, One Size Does Not Fit All

In general, DIY legal service providers create one will template, but not everybody’s situation is the same. BC Notaries create a will to meet your estate needs, personalizing your will so that it is both valid and effective.

DIY Wills Are Can Be More Expensive Than You Expect

5. Assets May Not Be Net Assets (Mortgages and Taxes)

Whenever you write a Will with the assistance of a legal professional, you are walked through a series of questions that help you account for the totality of your estate.

Only once your estate is properly assessed, will a Will be drafted to divide your estate as you see fit. DIY-ing you Will may cause your assets to be divided differently then you wished because they are not properly accounted for.

6. Mistakes Can Cost a Fortune (Literally)

The whole point of making a Will in the first place is to decide what you want to do with your estate. Whether it’s big or small, your estate comprises of the fortune that you were able to build over your lifetime.

DIY legal service sites can make it sounds like creating a Will is simple. But it isn’t. And mistakes cost money. In fact, ineffective wills can end up costing your family thousands of dollars in legal fees down the road. That can mean that your fortune — big or small — can end up going to covering those fees rather than to your loved ones.

7. Your Intentions May Not Be as Clearly Stated as You Think

No matter how much research you do, you probably don’t speak legalize, (which is how I call the oh-so-complicated language of the law). So even though you (and other normal humans) think that your Will is clear, without proper training, there’s a good chance that your wishes may not be clear for the law.

If this happens a court case is required to determine the correct meaning of the Will, costing your family their precious money and time.

8. You Don’t Get to Talk Through Your Estate Plan

One of the big benefits of working with a BC Notary is that you get to discuss your estate plan, ask questions, and get advice about the best way to structure things.  

Our experience makes the process much easier to work through.  Common feedback we hear is that “that was much easier than I expected”.  We also hear that “I feel like a heavy load has been lifted from me”.

Let us do the heavy lifting. You’ll feel better having these important details sorted out.

9. Learn about Powers of Attorney or Representation Agreements

BC Notaries can help with Wills, but we also prepare and advise on Powers of Attorney and Representation Agreements.  

For a complete estate plan and to provide full protection; it’s important to discuss if a Power of Attorney and/or Representation Agreement is something you can consider and learn about when working with a professional as opposed to a DIY wills kit.

Create A Valid Will

At David Watts, Notary Public, we can help you write your Will.

We have more than a decade of experience helping people with their estate planning and can give you the advice you need to write a valid and effective Will.

Get in touch and we’ll make sure your Will reflects your wishes. 

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what is a cohabitation agreement

What Is A Cohabitation Agreement (And When Do You Need One)?

Have you recently moved in with your significant other or are you planning to do so?

If so, you’re entering a high-stakes game.

Like in most high-stakes games, things could go your way. If that happens, the payoff could be huge. You could, as they say, live happily ever after.

But if things don’t go well, that’s when things could start to get messy.

I asked my colleague and family lawyer: Laurence Klass from Watson Goepel to shed help shed some light on Cohabitation Agreements. The rest of this article is what he had to say.

Breakups are never pleasant, and unfortunately, that’s when disputes can get nasty. Most people don’t think that it will ever get to that point with someone they love, but sadly, breakups are when they see an entirely new side to the person.

I’ve seen this happen plenty of time. Two people, let’s say both of them divorced and with kids, fall in love and move in together. After while the relationship starts to fall apart.

Each of them brought different things they shared…but now the question of who brought what isn’t quite as clear. And as things start to unravel, the issues begin to emerge…

  • Who keeps the dog?
  • What are our kids entitled to?
  • What do we do with the property we bought during the time we were together?

Typically, answering these questions is tough, and become the centre of a legal dispute.

Other times, when people have the foresight (and good advice from a lawyer), they get a cohabitation agreement, making separations much easier.

What Is A Cohabitation Agreement?

Much like a marriage agreement or a prenup, a cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract signed by two people who live together or are planning to move into the same home.
Cohabs, as these agreement are sometimes called, outline how things will be divided if the relationship were to end.

This includes who:

  • retains ownership of property purchased together
  • retains ownership of property acquired before the relationship started
  • takes responsibility of any debt accrued before or during the relationship
  • pays for household expenses; and
  • how inheritance would be divided if families are being combined

In British Columbia, as long as the terms are deemed fair and don’t infringe on anyone’s individual freedoms (like, for example, specifies who a person can or can’t talk to), these cohabitation agreements can be pretty wide-ranging.

Do I Need A Cohabitation Agreement?

Yes having one makes sense. If you are getting married or plan to, your cohab agreement can be worded in a way to ensure that it will still remain in force once you are married.

It also gives you a chance to come to an agreement of how things will get divided while you are still in the relationship (and in good terms with your partner).

cohabitation agreements are binding contracts

Cohabs reduce some of the stress during breakups and helps avoid the costs involved with disputes. They also help make sure that both parties take care of their families, and protect the inheritance that they give or receive to their own family members.

By having a cohab, you are resolving in advance what’s going to happen to the property if the relationship breaks down. Everything is much quicker, cost effective, and less stress.

In short, you can move on quicker with your life.

What Happens If You Don’t Have One?

In BC, if a couple doesn’t have a cohabitation agreement and a dispute ensues after their relationship breaks down, the decision as to who gets what will be governed by the Family Law Act.

According to this act, property and debt is divided equally among both parties. It becomes the responsibility of each person to provide evidence proving who brought what into the relationship, which is sometimes difficult to do.

The time to have these agreements made is when people are on good terms. If you wait and the couple isn’t on good terms, lawyers get involved, and that can get pricey and could take years.

Do You Need One If You Are Married?

Under British Columbian law, cohabitation agreements hold the same power as marriage agreements (in fact, they are the exact same thing, except named differently).

These agreements apply to anyone in a married couple, a common law relationship, or who are living together. They can even include clauses that say that they remain valid if the status of the relationships transition from cohabitation to common law to marriage.

What Do You Need to Include in a Cohabitation Agreement?

Here is a list of things that can be included in a cohabitation agreement:

  • How family property, like real estate, possessions, and pensions, will be divided
  • How debt will be divided

The agreement can also determine who gets what if the relationship were to end. This includes:

  • who owns what
  • how much money each person puts in to run the household
  • how credit cards are dealt with
  • whether someone will receive spousal support upon an eventual breakup
  • how any disagreements will be solved

What Is Not Included?

In BC, certain things cannot be included in a cohabitation agreement.

These include:

  • Laying out how people must act within the relationship
  • Stating parenting responsibilities for children who have not been born.
  • Laying out future child support for any unborn children.

Do You Need to Update Cohabitation Agreements?

Cohabitation agreements should be seen as a living document. They need to be reviewed at regular intervals to keep them current and make sure they still do what they are meant to.

We recommend that people update their cohabitation agreement every five years, or whenever a significant event, such as a marriage or the birth of a child, occurs. Additionally, if one of the members of the agreement were to suddenly receive a large sum of money or a property in an inheritance, for instance, the agreement should also be reviewed.

If you would like to make sure that this update occurs at a regular interval, you can include a review clause in the document itself. This clause would be triggered after an event (such as the ones mentioned above) or could state that the agreement needs to be reviewed every couple of years to remain valid.

Whatever you choose to do, the main point is that it’s important to look at the agreement regularly to make sure it continues to work for both parties and to make sure that it hasn’t become significantly unfair.

whats included in a cohabitation agreement

How Do You Get a Cohabitation Agreement?

There is a growing trend of people who choose to try to save money by using resources online to create their own cohabitation agreements.

Bad idea.

While an online template gives the appearance of saving time and money, this is just not true.

There are plenty of precedents of people who have entrusted their property and debt to these online templates, only to find out that they hold no legal value, causing their assets to be divided according to the Family Law Act.

If you want your cohabitation agreement to stand up in court, you need a family lawyer who can tailor it to fit your specific needs. Both parties should also consult independent legal counsel to make sure the agreement is fair and gives adequate coverage to their own interests.

If you have any more questions about Cohabitation or Marriage Agreements, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with a family law lawyer who can assist.

A big thanks to Lawrence Klass for this great information!

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