Alan Shanoff, “Get Legally Fit in 2014: Don’t Wait for a Disaster to see if You’re Insured” (Toronto Sun, January 4, 2014)
Most of us go about our daily lives without putting any thought into legal issues. But with a new year upon us readers should start thinking about these issues and take the time to put their legal affairs in order.
The obvious place to start is with wills and powers of attorney (POA). Without a will your affairs are left in disarray, there are extra expenses and difficulties for your loved ones and your assets get divided under a prescribed formula.
It’s also important to have a POA to deal with issues that may arise while you are alive, but unable to handle your own affairs. Without a POA your assets can be frozen if you become incapacitated. An expensive application to the courts may be necessary to deal with this.
Lawyers who specialize in wills and POAs are easy to find and usually charge modest rates for simple estates. There are also will and POA kits — dynamiclegalforms.com have the best kits I have seen — available for those who don’t want, or can’t afford, a lawyer. However, there are potential pitfalls in creating these documents yourself.
If you are about to marry, separate, live in a common law relationship or divorce, see a lawyer to discuss your POA, will, life insurance policy or whether a marriage, cohabitation or separation agreement would be advisable.
Designate beneficiaries for your RRSP and TFSA.
Read up on OHIP residency conditions before you or a family member leave the province for any extended period.
Check the conditions in your travel insurance policy to see if you have the coverage you require.
Understand the use of social media can create legal issues or complicate matters for employees and anyone involved in personal injury, family law or wrongful dismissal litigation.
Most people don’t read their insurance policies until they have a problem. Don’t wait for that. Pull out and read your policies. Call your broker or agent to discuss anything you don’t understand. Confirm what you are told via email.
Don’t wait until you have a flood or suffer losses from a loss of power or a downed tree. Ascertain what coverage you have and whether the limits are sufficient. I suffered a flood loss last year and discovered, too late, my coverage was inadequate.
Don’t wait until someone is injured on your property or you are the victim of a burglary or fire. Verify that your insurance coverage is adequate now, including coverage for specialized items like jewelry.
Even tenants should have property and liability insurance. Many do not.
Pull out your car insurance policy. Check the amount of liability coverage, the coverage that protects you in the event of a negligence lawsuit for at fault accidents.
Having too little liability coverage can lead to a financial catastrophe or bankruptcy if you cause an accident.
Extra premiums for enhanced coverage are not significantly expensive, particularly if you add the coverage via an umbrella rider to your home insurance.
Review your no fault accident benefit coverage to see if it’s adequate. This coverage was severely reduced in 2010 but some of the pre-2010 benefits can be repurchased at minimal expense. Speak to your agent or broker about your needs. Get their advice and confirm it in writing.
If you intend to buy or sell a house or condo see a lawyer before you sign an offer or agreement to purchase or sell. These are binding legal documents (although there is a 10-day cooling off period to cancel a new condo deal in Ontario when you buy from a builder or developer). Your legal rights won’t be protected unless you see a lawyer before signing.
Turning 60, 65 or 71? Look into CPP, OAS and RRSP/RRIF issues. If you don’t understand the acronyms in this column you need to improve your financial literacy.
Document important conversations. Make it a habit to read contracts and policies. Know your rights. Use lawyers when necessary. Put your legal affairs in order in 2014.