Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Best of 2015: TV Edition

Part 2 of my Best of 2015 series and today I'm talking about TV and what I was hooked on this past year. If you want to check out my last post on movies you can get it here. TV shows are a little less specific since they usually go across more than one year so my criteria for this list is that it aired at least some episodes at some point in 2015 (super strict I know)! What have you guys enjoyed watching this year? 

#1. The Jinx: This was the year of true crime for me and The Jinx was the absolute best of anything I watched, listened to or read...and there's a crazy ending! 

#2. Master of None: Oh Aziz, how I love you and your witty sense of humour! This Netflix series is so good and he is just so darn likable. It's so smart and charming and perfect to binge on. 

#3. Dreamland (Utopia): I've raved on here about Dreamland before and it would be impossible to leave it off my list of faves so here it is. Go watch it, it's on Netflix. 

#4. Broad City: I always feel a little weird recommending Broad City to anyone because Abbi and Ilana (the two main characters) are crude, rude, a little gross but so hysterical. If you don't take offense too easily it's worth a watch...YASSS! 

#5. Luther: I'm actually surprised that so many of my picks this year are comedies and I usually like things a little darker...that's where Luther comes in. A dark, heavy cop drama with Idris Elba, what more could you ask for? 

#6. You're the Worst: Funny in a cynical and sarcastic sort of way, the blossoming relationship between Jimmy and Gretchen is the focus of You're the Worst. It's kind of a romantic comedy between two of the most unromantic people on TV. 

#7. The Good Wife: What is there to really say about The Good Wife? If you haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet you probably aren't going to, no matter how many people tell you to. It's probably the best written show on cable and the characters seem to just keep getting better. I actually wish I could go back and watch season 5 for the first time again! 

#8. Life in Pieces: Ok, I might be totally offside on this one because the reviews really aren't that great but I find it so funny and I actually like how they split up the episodes into short stories (short attention span much?). 

#9. Hawaii Five-0: My guilty pleasure show for the past five years. It's now kind of tradition to watch this over breakfast on Saturday mornings. Sure it's fluff, but it's delicious, action packed, funny fluff. Plus, Alex O'Loughlin has his shirt off at least once an episode and that's definitely not a bad thing.

#10. Code Black: I haven't liked a lot of the new cable shows this year but I find myself enjoying Code Black more and more every week. I think the cast is great and I've been needing a new medical drama (I still watch Grey's but it's sure gone downhill the last few years). 

I've also got a few fails; shows that I just could not get into for whatever reason. 

Supergirl: Apparently people love this show but I just didn't, I found it was to teeny-bopper for me. 

Bloodline: The casting for this is amazing but holy man was it a slog to get through. I was waiting for some big twist but it felt like I watched the whole thing and nothing happened. 

Making a Murderer: Another true crime drama and this time one that I didn't really enjoy. I think I'm in the minority here but I had a hard time with this one. I'll admit that I'm kind of a terrible person in that I just could not jump on board with these characters, they were all just kind of awful! The bf liked it though, so if you're a better person than me give it a shot ;) 

True Detective: What a letdown! I thought Season 1 was so good and when I heard who they cast for the 2nd season I thought it would be equally as wasn't, not even close. I'm still angry about it. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Best of 2015: Movie Edition

With 2015 coming to a close I've put together a few recaps of things I really enjoyed over the past year. To kick things off I'm looking at movies that came out over the past year (with one exception) and which ones I thought were great and a few duds. One caveat here is that I can be pretty fussy when it comes to movie watching (ok, and other things...) so I really only watch movies that get at least decent reviews (hooray for Rotten Tomatoes). This means that the duds are really just ones that disappointed me, and in no way the worst movies of the year because let's be honest...who even wastes time on crap movies. 

So here we go, my favourite movies of 2015, in a very particular order. 

#1. The Martian: This ended up being my favourite movie of the year and favourite book of the year. I did like the book a little better than the movie (always the way) but the movie is still fantastic. It was also awesome because I knew Matt Damon was in the movie before I started the book so I read the whole thing as him. 

#2. Kingsman: Secret Service: I was surprised how much I liked Kingsman as I had pretty low expectations going in but it is so fun and entertaining. I know it was pretty popular but if you somehow missed it you should go and watch it, I do believe it's also on Netflix now. 

#3. True Story: This is a newbie for me as I actually just watched it this past weekend. The reviews are a little mixed for it which makes zero sense to me (and obviously I'm a professional critic) but Jonah Hill and James Franco are great as it's right in the true crime wheelhouse that I'm kind of obsessed with lately. 

#4. Sicario: Dark, gritty, violent....all the things I love about a good Denis Villeneuve film and Sicario covers all those bases. 

#5. Trainwreck: Amy Schumer had a heck of a year and this movie really proves that she can carry a movie. Sure it's a romantic comedy but I watched it with the bf and we both loved it. Even LeBron James is funny it, and I kind of can't stand him. 

#6. Room: Another great movie that came from a great book. It must have been a couple of years ago that I read Room and I think it's worthwhile reading it before you see the movie. The little boy in the movie is so good and how can you not love Brie Larson. It's sure not an uplifting movie but everyone needs a good cry every now and again. 

#7. Spotlight: The second journalism movie on my list this year and this one centers on a group of journalists investigating cases of priest abuse in Boston. Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo are in it which is good enough reason to check it out but it's also very well written. Don't go in expecting an edge of your seat thriller because it is not but it's intense enough to keep you involved. 

#8. Furious 7: Ok, ok, I'm a sucker for pretty much all of these movies, even the really bad ones, which this one is not. I still think Fast 5 is the best of the franchise but 7 is good enough to make my list and the extra storyline of Paul Walker's death makes it just a little sweeter. 

#9. Spy: This wont make everyone's top 10 list and you definitely need to be a Melissa McCarthy fan to enjoy it but apparently I am and found this hilarious! One of the best, straight up funny movies I've ever seen. Her and Jason Statham are hysterical together and there is just enough real spy stuff to make it exciting. 

#10. Short Term 12: This one is a little different because it's not from 2015 but I just discovered in on Netflix earlier this year and fell in love with the movie. It's a story about a group home for minors and follows the stories of the children and the counselors. Brie Larson stars in it and it is so good (as I said above, I'm a fan). It covers some pretty heavy topics but still ends up being sweet and inspiring. 

And now for the duds....this time in no particular order, they all sucked. 

Magic Mike XXL kicks things off for being so incredibly ridiculous. I liked the first one, it had a cute story line and was just stripper-y enough but this one had zero plot and ended up just being gross. I don't know about the rest of you ladies but a sweaty stripper grinding his junk in my face would never be my idea of a good time (even if it was Channing Tatum). 

Black Mass was just a disappointment because really, Johnny Depp playing an infamous gangster should just work but this movie was so painfully boring. I don't even mind a slow-burn of a movie but this was just awful. 

Our Brand is Crisis wasn't a horrible movie but I had high hopes for it. I'm a big fan of Sandra Bullock and it looked a little like The Ides of March which I really enjoyed but ended up being boring and just blah. 

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Mutual Funds: What Are You Actually Paying?

Mutual Fund Fees

Mutual funds are incredibly popular in the investment world and I'm in no way against their use in a portfolio but it is important that you have an understanding of the various fees involved. The biggies that you need to know about are going to be the sales charges and the management expenses as these will impact what you pay out of pocket and what your return is after the fees are deducted. 

Sales Charges
There are a few different ways you can pay to buy a mutual fund and this will be determined by your plan for the fund and what type of account you'll be holding it in. 

For a front end (FE) or initial sales charge (ISC) fund you will pay your investment advisor commission to purchase the fund for you, usually this will be in the 1% to 5% range. FE funds would be used in accounts where you don't pay your advisor an additional management fee, so really, this is how they get paid. Feel free to negotiate this fee with your advisor but do keep in mind what sort of other work they do for you. If you are getting retirement or tax planning advice at no extra charge then FE funds could very well be where you are paying your advisor. 

Next up are back end or deferred sales charges (DSC) funds and for these you wont pay anything up front for the fund but you will have to pay if you pull your money out of the fund too soon (in the 5-7% range). Usually you have to keep your money in the fund for 5-7 years to avoid the penalty but a lot of companies let you take out 10% of your holding free of charge each year and switch between funds in the same company over that same period. DSC funds tend to get a bad wrap because people don't understand the long term commitment (or haven't been told) and get caught if they need their money. Obviously there are perks for the mutual fund having at least some sort of control over your money for this length of time, so they actually pay your advisor a sort of bonus when you buy these funds. This is where that bad wrap can come into play if your advisor doesn't fully disclose the penalties for early withdrawal to you. 

There are also low load (LL) funds that are right smack in the middle on the first two in that they will charge you to buy them, but usually less than FE (1% to 3%) but will also charge you if you redeem them early but less than DSC (about 3% and they fully mature after only 3 years normally). LL funds have the good and bad of both FE and DSC funds.

Finally there are no load (NL) funds that wont charge you any sales charges to buy or sell...sounds great right? The only hitch is that these are typically used only in fee-based accounts where you would be paying your advisor a commission to manage your accounts (tends to be by entire account or even household and not by each fund individually). 

For most mutual funds you will be able to buy the same fund by any of the above means. For example, you could buy Cdn Bond Fund-DSC, Cdn Bond Fund-FE, Cdn Bond Fund - LL, or Cdn Bond Fund - NL and they will all be the same except for the sales charge you pay (hold the same investments and be managed by the same person). 

Management and/or Operating Expenses
The mutual fund also has certain expenses that they have to pay (salaries, bookkeeping, reporting, etc.) so they pull the cost of these expenses straight out of the funds earnings. This means that you may not have to pay these directly but it still impacts you as it lowers the rate of the return on the fund. 

Most MER's are between 1% and 3% so if your fund has earned a rate of return of 9% for the year you may only see a 7% increase if you're paying an MER of 2%. Included if the MER will also be what is called a trailer fee to your advisor. This tends to be between 0.25% and 1.25% and is kind of like a finders fee for bringing you in as a client for the mutual fund company. 

The MER's aren't transparent to investors and to get that information you need to contact the mutual fund company and even then you'll likely only get a percentage instead of an exact dollar value. It's worth knowing though, especially if you're choosing between two funds that have similar investment profiles; the cheaper one will likely be your best bet. Keep in mind though, portfolio managers with a good track record will cost more but may also make up for it with better returns. As the disclaimer goes though, prior success does not guarantee future returns. 

Another thing to keep in mind when looking at MER's is the type of fund you are buying. More aggressive, actively managed funds will cost you more than a passive fund simply because there will be more trading in riskier markets which means it needs to be more closely managed and is just more work in general. 

That's the gist of the basic fees you will be charged if you're investing in mutual funds. As always, if you have questions or want any additional details feel free to let me know. 

Mutual Fund Fees

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Binge Worthy TV Shows

Christmas is always such a busy time for everyone but it's also really nice to curl up, relax and get sucked in to a new TV show. I'm lucky enough to have some time off over Christmas and am hoping to spend at least some of that time vegging out on the couch. Maybe you're planning on doing the same thing and are in need of a new show to dive into, if so, I've got your back! Here are some of my favourites that are all available on Netflix for your viewing pleasure. 

Craving something a little girlie and full of drama? Nashville just might be your answer. One of my best friends recommended it to me a couple of years back and it took me awhile to jump on board, I was pretty skeptical because I'm really not a country fan. If you're in the same boat, don't even worry about it...there's so much good and really not that much country music. There's three seasons available on Netflix now and it's a cable show which means lots of episodes to fill your time ;) 

I've mentioned this show on the blog before and it's a bit of an obscure pick because it's from Australia, but it is seriously so, so funny! It's a little bit like The Office, in that it's set in a workplace and might not be everyone's cup of tea but the bf and I both love it and flew through the two seasons that are up on Netflix. 

In the mood for something a little dark and twisty, Luther might be just the answer. Idris Elba is fantastic (obviously) as detective John Luther. There's four seasons on Netflix but it's actually only 14 episodes in total (those British shows and their weird super short seasons) so you could even finish over the break. Not exactly a festive show but sometimes you need a little crime drama. 

X Company
Sometimes Canadian content can be pretty awful but I thought this show was really enjoyable and am looking forward to the second season. It's about a group of young Canadian spies in WWII and their efforts to thwart the Germans. If you like historical dramas you should give the X Company a shot, I don't think you'll be disappointed. 

I've got a cop drama already so why not a lawyer drama? Suits kind of has it all, it's definitely dramatic but it can also be funny, sweet and a whole lot of charming. The characters are so great and you really root for them but they all have a little bit of a bad streak. It's such a good show and I feel like it doesn't get the hype it deserves. 

Ok, so I'm a pretty big Friends fan and am therefore a Matt LeBlanc fan so my opinion on this one might be slightly biased. With that said, I do think Episodes is funny and enjoyable, even if it's a little fluffy (sometimes that's just what you need though). Matt LeBlanc stars as himself and the show basically parodies his ridiculous Hollywood lifestyle but you don't end up hating him (at least I didn't...)

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Government Pensions (CPP, OAS & GIS)

Canadian Government Pensions

Last week we talked about the basics of pensions that are provided by your employer so now we are going to focus on the government pensions that are available to you (us Canadians anyways). The most significant is usually the Canada Pension Plan but there is also Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement that can help out retirees. 

Canada Pension Plan (CPP)
If you work in Canada you most likely contribute to CPP (one of those pesky deductions off your pay cheque) and will therefore be eligible to receive a CPP payment in retirement. The norm is to start receiving CPP at age 65 but you can also take a decreased pension as early as age 60 or an increased pension if you delay past age 65. In most circumstances it makes sense to start collecting CPP at whatever age you retire; the extra tax you would pay if you are still working (increased income) often cancels out any benefit taking it early. The penalty for taking your CPP early is increasing, so that's something to keep in mind; for 2015 it is (was) 0.58% per month prior to age 65 and for 2016 it will be 0.60%. 

The amount of CPP you will receive is dependent on how much you have contributed and how many years you have worked in Canada. Makes sense right? The longer you've worked and the more you've contributed the higher your CPP will be. Just to give you an idea, the maximum CPP payment for 2015 is $1,065/month and this does increase each year. There are however a couple of  factors the CPP includes that may increase your CPP. The first is the 'General Drop-Out Provision'. What happens here is that some low (or no) earning years can be ignored to help boost your CPP amount. If you were a student, unemployed, etc. you can drop some or maybe all of those years so they wont have an impact. Probably the most common situation that would keep you out of the workforce for an extended period is having children, so CPP has a specific provision to deal with this. The 'Child-Rearing Provision' can be used if you stopped (or worked less) because you were the primary caregiver for your kid(s). The one big difference between the two provisions is that the drop-out happens automatically whereas the child-rearing has to be requested, so if it applies to you make sure you do that. 

Now that just focuses on the retirement pension but CPP also includes disability benefits and a survivor benefit. These will help to cover you if you have a disability that keeps you out of the workforce long-term or if your spouse passes away. For more information on CPP you can check out this site

Old Age Security (OAS)
Next up is OAS which can also play a pretty important role in the income of retirees. Unlike CPP, OAS is available to all legal Canadian residents and is dependent on how many years you have lived in Canada. Right now you can apply to receive OAS starting at age 65 but this is being pushed back to age 67 starting in 2023. This means that if you were born in 1957 or earlier you will be able to start collecting OAS at age 65 and if you were born in 1963 or later you're going to have to wait until age 67. If you're somewhere in the middle you will be able to start sometime between 65 and 67...check here for the details. 

To receive the maximum OAS amount you need to have lived in Canada for at least 40 years (after you turned 18) and have resided in Canada for the 10 years prior to applying. The current maximum OAS benefit is $569.95 and this amount is reviewed quarterly and is indexed to rise with inflation. 

One thing to remember is that if you have a high income in retirement you may have your OAS clawed back (or as the government likes to call it, OAS recovery/repayment). For 2015 the income threshold is $72,809 and this also increases with inflation and the clawback rate is 15%. This means that for every dollar over $72,809 you will have to pay back $0.15 so if you have an income over $118,055 your OAS will be fully clawed back. This is important to keep in mind if you'll have a big pension in retirement, you will want to look at maybe pulling money out your RRSP's prior to age 65 and making use of income splitting. 

Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)
The final government pension that is available is the GIS but it is only for those with low income in retirement. The GIS is based on your annual income (if you are single) and on a combined income if you are married. For a single person your income has to be below $17,280 to be eligible. For more information on the income levels and payment amounts you can check the tables at the bottom of this page

Side-note: The Service Canada website has been pretty awful lately, so if you are having trouble opening the links provided above you may have to try back a little later; I promise the links are correct (at least as of the date this was posted). 

Canadian Government Pensions

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christmas Baking

'Tis the weekend to drag out the cookie sheets and mixing bowls and whip up some Christmas baking. This year I'm going with a couple of old favourites and a couple of new additions that hopefully turn out ok! 

I like to pack everything up in Christmas gift boxes from the dollar store with some wax paper and hand them out to friends, colleagues, neighbours...who doesn't love Christmas baking! I'm open to exchanges too ;)

Here's what's going in those boxes this year: 

Easy Homemade Toffee
I've done this chocolate covered toffee for the last 4 (I think) years and it is always a hit, so much so that I'm pretty much required to make it every year now. I always make a couple of batches and top one with some sort of nut (this year it's slivered almonds) and another with crushed candy canes as we've got some nut allergy sufferers. Side note: bulk barn actually sells crushed candy canes so you don't need to peel off those stupid plastic wrappers yourself...I was a little too excited to find those this year! Last year was actually a bit of a disaster for this toffee, the only tricky part is the carmelization process and I think it's actually better to use salted butter and then omit the salt from the recipe. Round two worked perfectly though and that was the only mishap with this recipe (and I never use a candy thermometer). Lesson learned though, unsalted only! 

Classic Shortbread Cookies 
Shortbread is my absolute favourite and there's always some variety on the baking list. This recipe is great, rich and know, everything you want in a shortbread cookie. I like to dip them in a little dark chocolate but they are also great as is. Pro tip, make lots as they may or may not all make it to the packaging step. 

Coconut Macaroons
These are a new addition but they look so yummy and I figured coconut would be kind of a nice change from the classic Christmas cookies. I haven't decided if I'm going to drizzle a little chocolate on these or just leave them plain, it'll be a game time decision once I see how they turn out. I can't make any guarantees on this recipe as it's new to me but I've made other recipes from Sally's Baking Addiction that have turned out really well so I have high hopes. 

Easy Oreo Truffles
These are another new to me recipe but it was recommended to me by a very trustworthy source so I'm giving it a shot. Plus, I've been on a big Oreo kick for the last while (kind of weird since they never used to be my thing...and no, I'm not preggers!) and add in some cream cheese and it pretty much sounds like heaven. Oh, and only three ingredients, doesn't get much more basic than that. 

Do you have any Christmas baking in the works for this year? If so, what are you cooking (baking) up?

PS. We are doing Christmas with my family on the 19th so this is officially our last pre-Christmas weekend to get things done...YIKES!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The Basics on Workplace Pension Plans

Workplace pension plans

Pensions are kind of the golden ticket in retirement planning as they have such a huge impact on how much money will be coming in the door after you retire but not all types of pensions are created equal. Today I'm going to break down the two basic kinds of pensions that you would get through working, so this doesn't included government style pensions like CPP and OAS; we'll tackle those another day. 

Defined Benefit Pension Plans
DB plans are the real winners in the pension world and when most people think of a pension this is what their thinking of. A DB pension will pay you a guaranteed monthly pension after you retire that will be based on your years of service, salary and a bunch of far more complicated things. This means that you will get a pension cheque every month after you retire until you die (depending on the option you choose your spouse may even still receive your pension payment even after you die). This is the ultimate in safety and you would need to have a whole lot of money invested to come close to what your pension will likely pay out. 

Let's look at a quick example. Say you will receive a monthly pension of $2500/month, you retire and 60 and live to age 90. In this scenario you would get: $2500 x 12 months per year x 30 years = $900,000. 

Some defined benefit pensions also have indexing built into them. This means that they will increase over your retirement to either completely or partially keep up with inflation. As we're all aware, prices tend to go up over time (that's inflation) so $2500 today will not have the same buying power as $2500 in 20 years, that's what indexing tries to solve. A fully indexed, defined benefit pension plan is about the best and safest option you can have in retirement, problem is, not many jobs come with that benefit anymore because it's incredibly expensive for the employer. Keep in mind though, if you do get a DB pension with your job, make sure you weigh that if you're considering a job switch. You may get a higher salary somewhere else but that payment in retirement is significant. 

Defined Contribution Pension Plan
The other big option (and much more common these days) in pensions are DCPP's. These plans have both you and your employer contributing a portion of your salary into a retirement account that is similar to an RRSP, but with some extra restrictions. The big difference in the two plans is that where as the DB pension will pay you out a guaranteed amount until you die, the DCPP will provide you with money only until you run out. If you end up with $500,000 in your DCPP at retirement and you spend it all in the first 10 years of retirement, that money is goners so you need to make sure you plan your withdrawals accordingly. 

There are a couple other factors of DCPP's that many people do like. You can usually move your funds out of the plan at retirement (and sometimes before) so you can invest however you want (just as you would a personal RRSP). Another thing is that if you die that account will remain with your estate and pass on to whoever you have listed as beneficiary. With the exception of your spouse (if you chose that pension option), your DB pension will stop paying if you die, so if you don't live that long after you start your pension you wont receive that much money...of course, this is impossible to know. 

Now, when I say DCPP's go into an account similar to an RRSP this is true, but you do need to be aware of certain limitations. The accounts are usually called Locked-In RRSP's and they are exactly as they sound. Except for some exceptional situations, you cannot pull any money out of the account until you are retired and even then there are yearly minimums and maximums. The government does this so you don't do what I said in the example above and go out and spend the whole $500,000 (or whatever) in the first chunk of retirement...they force you to be at least somewhat responsible. 

Ok guys, those are the basics. Any type of pension is a great added benefit but you should be aware of what type of pension you have and what that means in retirement. Feel free to post any questions below. 

Workplace pension plans

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Spoiled Rotten

Spoiling children

With Christmas on the horizon and all the gifting it brings I want to chat for a minute about the matter of spoiling your kids. This is a subject that kind of hits home with me because I'm an only child, and therefore, was (and still sometimes am) accused of being "spoiled rotten". Sure, I had a comfortable childhood with two parents who both worked good jobs and I am completely aware that I had certain privileges that not everyone had but I do not considered myself spoiled, and certainly not rotten!

I think it's a-ok for parents to spoil their kids on Christmas, take them on nice vacations and whatever else they want to do (and can reasonably afford)'s really none of anyone else's business. I do however also think it is so important to teach kids the value of a dollar and that not everything in life comes easy. My parents were (and still are) there to help me if I need but I also was encouraged to get a job at age 14 and have worked ever since. This included part-time jobs all through high school and university and then getting a full-time job right after graduation. I like to think that I have ended up with a great job in a field I enjoy because my parents instilled in me a good work ethic and desire to succeed instead of a sense of entitlement and that means more to me than any of the gifts they bought me or places we traveled. 

Not much makes me crazier than people who have no drive and seem to float through life taking handouts from others...seriously, makes me CRAZY! If you have kids please do yourself and your kids (and me!) a favour and teach them the value of putting in a little extra effort; teach them the basics of money and the role it plays in getting what they want. 

It feels a little weird going on what is basically a parenting rant, you know, since I'm not a parent but I'm always happy to share some opinions ;) 

Now go on out and buy presents with no guilt, and maybe, just maybe, add in a little tidbit about how hard you work to buy all those pretty gifts. Rant over! 

Spoiling children

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Estate Planning Basics

Creating an estate plan

No one ever likes to talk about death, but today we're doing it. It's not exactly a subject that comes up at the family dinner table every often, but it is a conversation that you need to have with your loved ones, just in case a tragic event strikes. It is always better to be overly prepared than be forced into a situation where you have to make life or death decisions with no background information. 

When you're young (and you know, invincible) the last thing on your mind is what would happen to your assets if you passed away. This is especially true when you may not have much in the way of assets, but that doesn't mean it's not important to plan for the future. You don't necessarily have to get your full estate plan in place if you don't have much in the way of assets and no children to make decisions for but there are some advantages of getting a head start. The one biggie is life insurance. The younger you are the cheaper your life insurance premiums will be. Learning about estate planning can also help you if you have ageing parents who might need a little nudge to get their affairs in order. If you already have your own children, you definitely need to start the process and get an estate plan in place. 

So what exactly is an estate plan and what do you need to get done to ensure you have a functioning one in place?  

The Will 
This is the big one, and you want (need) to make sure it is done properly. Sure you can buy a 'Write your own Will' kit off the internet but just don't ok? I really recommend having a lawyer take care of this for you, no matter how simple you think it might be. The last thing you want is for your family to be arguing over non-specific language in your will after you're gone, and this happens more often than you would think. No matter how close you think your children may be, conflicts over an estate happen, and the one way you can control things from the grave (ok, that's a little creepy) is by having a clear and concise Will. Yes, it's going to cost you to have a lawyer prepare your Will, but I promise you it is worth it in the long run. Your Will is where you are going to indicate who gets what of your assets (investments, property, and possessions) and also where you will appoint a guardian to any underage children. Have these conversations before you meet with a lawyer and make sure that people who are getting assigned a job are informed. Sure, that scene it 'Manchester by the Sea' where Casey Affleck finds out his brother chose him to take care of his son might have been funny in a dark and painful sort of way but that's a movie...not real life. Most estate lawyers will provide you with a questionnaire or worksheet to help you plan all things out before you actually meet. 

Enduring Power of Attorney 
It makes sense to get a Power of Attorney done while you are getting your Will done. An enduring POA will allow you to choose someone to make decisions about your finances and your property when you are no longer able to make such decisions yourself. Don't worry about hurting anyone's feelings here; you don't have to choose someone just because they are family. This is not an easy job for anyone (and it could potentially be long-term), so you are looking for someone who can function under stress and make the decisions you would make if you were able. 

Personal Directive (Living Will)
A personal directive is similar to a POA in that it gives someone the decision making power when you are no longer able, but the PD covers decisions regarding your health and personal well-being. This includes such things as medical treatment, where and how you will live, and what happens to your children. Often it makes sense to choose the same person for your POA and PD, but it doesn't have to be. You know your people so do what makes then most sense for your situation, and remember, you can always change your mind in the future. 

Life Insurance 
You will want to ensure your debts are covered and your loved ones can continue to live comfortably if you die suddenly and life insurance can be an important factor in accomplishing that. If you all your debts are paid up, and you already have enough assets saved up to ensure any potential beneficiaries are taken care of then insurance isn't as necessary. However, if that's not the case, then it becomes almost an essential. I would look at getting a term insurance policy for an amount that will cover the cost of any outstanding debts (mortgage, loans, credit cards, etc.), the cost of your funeral, and enough additional money for your spouse to live on and raise any children you may have. Slight side note here...when you are getting a mortgage your bank will try to sell you mortgage insurance; don't do it. It's actually kind of a scam, and I've talked about it more here. Term life insurance is the way to go. 

Ok, those are the big important documents that you want to make sure you have in place. Now I'm going to include a few extra tips that aren't exactly estate planning per se but will make things easier for your loved ones. 
  • Make sure your spouse is listed as an account holder on any accounts/policies you have, or is at least given permission to make decisions; for example, your spouse should be listed on your utility, phone, and cable bills to make any necessary changes if you're not around. If you don't have authorization on an account and your spouse has passed away you may have to jump through some ridiculous hoops to get answers and make any changes to the account. 
  • Keep a file with copies of your relevant documents (all of those we talked about above as well as bank and investment statements) and tell your loved ones where that is so it's easy for them to find. If you are the executor of an estate, it can be a real task trying to hunt down where the deceased had money. I like to keep things simple myself but that's not always the case, some people are all about not keeping all their eggs in one basket and have bank accounts and/or investment accounts at numerous different institutions. 
  • Make sure the beneficiaries listed in your will match up with the beneficiaries you have listed on your insurance and investment accounts to avoid any confusion and keep those beneficiaries updated! There are rules in place for this (life insurance trumps Will but Will trumps investment accounts), but it's an easy change to make and helps avoid any conflict. Imagine how you might feel if you think you're the listed beneficiary on a large RRSP account only to find out the Will specifies otherwise...
  • If you are lucky enough to have a pension, make sure you (and your spouse) know your pension options. When you are retiring, you will be most likely be given different options on how and when your pension is paid out which can include how much your spouse would receive in the event of your death and potential guarantees for set terms. You might get a higher monthly amount if you choose an option where your spouse gets a reduced pension with no guarantee after your death but that might not make sense in the long run. Taking the slightly smaller pension now could save your spouse from suffering money troubles in the future.
  • So much of our lives are online now that it can be helpful to have a record of usernames/passwords that can be accessed to shut down online services. I'm sure if you take a look through your credit card statement you likely have a few online services that you are paying for (Netflix, Spotify, etc.) and those would all need to be cancelled. There are also things like email accounts, online banking, and social media accounts that may need to be accessed for monitoring or to shut them down. 
  • If you have pets, you'll want to make sure you have someone who is willing to take care of them. You can even include set aside a portion of your assets to whoever gets the job to make sure your furry friends are given all the spoiling they deserve. 
  • Do you want to be an organ donor? If so you'll want to make sure you've discussed this with your family, so they have a heads up. Then you can sign the back of your Alberta Health Care Card (if you live here), register online, or register the next time you get your driver's license renewed at a registry. 
There you have it. Hopefully, you're now ready to get your estate plan in place and make sure your loved ones do the same thing. As always, feel free to post any questions down below. 

Creating an estate plan