These FAQs are not legal advice. The answers to these FAQs may not be appropriate for your particular situation. If you should have any questions about whether or not one of these FAQs applies to you, please ask one of our lawyers.
Do you offer free initial consultations?
There is no initial charge for any personal injury consultations. For most other matters, initial one-hour consultations are provided at 50% reduced hourly rates.
Can you give advice over the phone, or do I need to meet my lawyer in-person?
The Law Society of British Columbia requires lawyers to verify the identity of their clients. For this reason, we are unable to give legal advice over the phone, prior to meeting you in-person and verifying your identity. If meeting us in person will be difficult for you, we are able to make alternative arrangements for verifying your identity. Please contact our office if this applies to you.
Do you make house visits or hospital visits?
Yes, we are able to meet at a client’s residence, a care facility or a hospital. Additional charges for this service do apply.
Do you offer services at fixed prices?
Yes, many of our real estate and corporate services are offered at fixed rates. Please contact our office to obtain an up-to-date schedule of fixed prices.
Do you offer percentage or contingency based billing?
Yes, we offer the convenience of percentage-based billing for personal injury cases.
I’ve been asked to pay a retainer. How does that work?
A retainer is paid to “Munro & Crawford in trust”. Your retainer will be deposited into our firm’s trust account as security against services to be rendered. It is not an up-front payment. We do not actually take any money from your retainer until we have prepared and sent you an itemized invoice for services rendered. Our invoices to you will be paid from the retainer held in trust, and you will periodically be asked to ‘top up’ the retainer.
How can I pay my bill?
You can pay your bill by cash, cheque, debit or credit card. Cash payments must be made in-person (please do not mail us cash). For your convenience, we can make arrangements for you to pay your bill over the phone using most major credit cards.
What documents form most estate plans, and what do they do?
A good estate plan prepares for two matters: planning for death, and planning for incapacity. A Will is essentially a set of instructions for what to do when you pass away, and who is responsible for doing them. Accordingly, most estate plans will start with creating a Will.
Your Will doesn’t do anything until you actually pass away. So, in the event that you become mentally incompetent, what then? In order to plan for incapacity, you typically want two documents: An Enduring Power of Attorney that covers legal and financial affairs, and a Representation Agreement that covers healthcare, personal care and living arrangements.
Does everyone need a Will?
Most people should have Wills, but there are exceptions. If you pass away without a Will, your assets will be transferred according to fixed rules. It might not make sense for you to make a Will if you aren’t going to change what would happen to your assets under the fixed rules.
For example: you are married but have no children. You want to make sure that everything you own will go to your spouse if you die. This is what would happen under the fixed rules. Therefore, making a Will confirming this isn’t going to change anything, and may not be a good use of your money.
The full answer to this question can be quite complicated. If you are uncertain whether you should have a Will, please call and book an appointment with one of our lawyers. We will listen to your circumstances and advise if making a Will is right for you.
Can my executor and the guardian for my minor children be the same person?
Yes, they can be the same person. However, many people are concerned that their children’s guardian will be reckless with the inheritance that is supposed to be for your children’s benefit. This is particularly so in high-value estates. In these circumstances, it usually makes sense for your guardian and your executor to be different people. The guardian will be responsible for raising your children, and the executor will be responsible for managing their inheritance until they’re old enough to receive it. Your executor can always transfer money to the children’s guardian if they are satisfied that it’s in the child’s best interests. For example, if the money is to be used for the child’s education or healthcare.
My child has always had a difficulty in managing their money. I’m afraid they’ll mismanage their inheritance, or be taken advantage of when I’m no longer here. Can I do something to prevent this?
Yes, we can create a trust in your Will where the inheritance will be professionally managed for the benefit of your child. The terms of the trust are flexible, and you can decide what the money can be used for (eg. education, housing, healthcare, transport, spending money, etc.).
How often should I redo my Will?
It’s a good idea to review your Will with your lawyer at least every five years to make sure its provisions are appropriate for your current life circumstances. Also, any time there is a major change in your life circumstances it’s important to have your Will reviewed (eg. a change in marital status). Sometimes, if changes are minor, your Will can be properly updated by making a modification to it using a ‘Codicil’. Often times a Codicil can be created during the course of a one-hour meeting with one of our lawyers to review your Will.
I’ve heard I can save my estate money if I add my child as a joint owner of my home and bank accounts. Is this true?
Assets that are jointly-owned do not pass according to what you say in your Will. Instead, they pass by the right of survivorship to the surviving joint owners. In practice, this means that jointly-owned assets do not need to go through the probate process, and your estate does not need to pay probate fees on the value of jointly owned assets.
It isn’t all positives, however. Adding joint owners to assets can be very risky. It will often trigger capital gains taxes, and the assets will be available to the creditors of the new joint owners. Would you really want to risk losing your home if your child doesn’t pay their taxes or gets divorced?
Is making a Will enough?
Making a Will is a good first-step, but it is only part of a proper estate plan. Your Will won’t work to transfer any assets that are owned jointly, or have a named designated beneficiary. Common examples are RRSP/RRIF, life insurance policies and pensions. When you are making your Will, you should review your financial assets and confirm whether any of your beneficiary designations require updating, or if ownership of accounts and land should be altered to match your intended distribution of your assets when you pass away.
Can I save taxes if I set up a trust?
Yes, you will likely save taxes, but you will also have transactional costs that might be more than the savings. Each trust needs to be carefully reviewed to determine whether there is any real benefit to creating the trust.
Is the transfer of property to a trust a taxable transaction?
In many cases the Canada Revenue Agency treats the transfer of property to a trust as a ‘taxable disposition’, that will trigger capital gains and other taxes. There are some exceptions to these rules, however.
I am in receipt of disability benefits and I am about to receive an inheritance. I’m worried that my benefits will be cut off. Is a trust the answer?
Many disability programs are asset-tested. That means that if you own more than a certain amount of assets your benefits will be cut off. To avoid this, in certain circumstances you are able to transfer assets to a trust to reduce your assets below the limit. When dealing with an inheritance, you typically have a short timeline – as little as 90 days – to create the trust and transfer assets to it in order to avoid losing your benefits. If this applies to you, please contact our office as soon as possible.
How do I get the Will from the deceased’s safety deposit box?
If you suspect that the deceased had a safety deposit box, and want to know what’s in it, you can typically make an appointment to inventory the box by bringing in a Death Certificate to the bank. An officer of the bank will then complete an inventory of the safety deposit box with you. If an original Will is in the safety deposit box, and it names you as an Executor, the bank should give it to you. The rest of the contents of the box will remain locked away until the probate process is completed.
I’m acting as an executor and I’m overwhelmed. Can you help?
Yes, we can help with most aspects of acting as an executor. We know that being an executor is a difficult task. Your responsibilities are numerous, and include things most people don’t even think about. Administering an estate is often a team approach, and we have an entire suite of professionals in our network to help every step of the way.
Did the deceased omit to pre-plan their funeral or celebration of life? We have a team of experienced event planners and florists who can help. Was the deceased a hoarder? We have a moving/storage company and a cleaning company who will help itemize the deceased’s home contents and prepare the home for sale. Did the deceased own a lot of esoteric items? We have appraisers from almost every field who can quickly discern the value of items including coin and stamp collections, art and precious metals. We also have a number of accountants who are able to assist with complex tax matters that each executor must deal with when administering an estate.
Corporate and Commercial
I have a family business and only one of my children wants to work in it. What should I do?
Generational transfers in a family business are very tricky. In many cases someone involved feels disgruntled, or that they received the short end of the stick. As in many elements of life, you can’t please everyone all the time.
In most instances, you will want to separate the business owners from the business decision makers. You can then make all of your children owners, but leave the decision making to the only child who wants to work in the company. This child is often given financial incentives if they make the business flourish, to the benefit of all family members.
When should I see my lawyer when I want to buy or sell my property?
When buying a property, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer examine the legal title before you enter a binding agreement to purchase the property. For example, if the reason you like a particular property is that it has a large backyard and you want to build a swimming pool, your lawyer will be able to check if there are any restrictions on swimming pools contained in ‘restrictive covenants’ or ‘easements’ registered on title. If you sign the contract to buy the property before checking title, and find out later on that you can’t build a swimming pool, you may not be able to get out of the contract.
When selling a property, it’s a good idea to have a lawyer examine legal title to your home at the time you sign your listing agreement with your realtor. Mortgages are not automatically discharged from title when they are paid off, and we occasionally find that a mortgage that was paid off over a decade ago will still be registered on title. It can be difficult to get these old mortgages discharged from title if the lender has died or cannot be found. Your lawyer will need time to address these types of issues, and finding them out at the last minute can cause a deal to collapse.