Half of Canadians do not have a will, a new TD survey has found. In addition, 28 per cent of Canadians without a will are between the ages of 53 and 71, and 39 per cent have not discussed estate planning with their children, according to the survey that was released this week.

"Estate planning is an essential step in making sure your assets are managed as you wish after your death," says Rowena Chan, senior vice president of TD Wealth Financial Planning. "If you do not have a will, it can create a lot of conflict and unnecessary animosity amongst family members during an already difficult time – regardless of how much or how little you plan to leave behind."

Conflict among relatives

In Canada, the vast majority (88 per cent) of people have at least one sibling, which means there is often conflict regarding inheritance. The survey found 19 per cent of respondents, who had received an inheritance, had conflicts with their relatives over the division of assets, and that 41 per cent said that they considered taking a smaller share of the inheritance to maintain family harmony. The top two causes of conflict over inheritance are family property (45 per cent) and cash investments (39 per cent).

"In Canada, if you die without a will, your assets are distributed according to the laws of the province in which you lived, using a set formula to allocate your estate to your spouse, children or other relatives, which could be different from what you really wanted," says Chan. "Even if you do have a will, you need to keep it up-to-date so that it accurately reflects your existing assets and any changes that may have occurred in your family or financial situation."

Review estate plan

Chan recommends reviewing estate plans every three to five years, and to change them in accordance to significant life events, such as, for instance, a change in the marital status of a child.

"The value of your assets is measured by more than the dollar amount," said Chan. "Family members may have memories associated with certain items that make them more valuable than any dollar figure. It is important to consider these emotions when distributing your assets among loved ones. A financial planner can help you navigate these considerations to ensure you have a plan that works for you and your family."