The Five Documents You Need To Have
Lawyers are notorious for loving paperwork, and it’s not that far off from the truth. Even in a paperless firm like Lamers Law, there are still countless digitized documents that make up a client’s file – each one of them with their own story to tell.
Documents are important, of course, but if you’re trying to keep things simple then it’s important to prioritize what documents you have and when. While legal advice is required for any specific situation, here’s a general overview of the 5 most important documents that you need to have in your life (in no particular order).
If you decide to move in with a partner, whether that’s before marriage or even if you decide not to marry, you should have a cohabitation agreement in place. A cohabitation agreement sets out what happens during the time that you are together. For example, if you live with someone long enough to be in a common-law marriage but do not have an agreement, there are laws around what happens to the property that you acquire together, and even your debts that you acquire while living together.
A cohabitation agreement (sometimes called a “cohab”) lets you effectively call the shots. You can decide what happens to your property, especially after the relationship ends. While anyone can enter into a cohabitation agreement, they can be extremely useful if you have a lot of assets coming into the relationship that you wish to protect.
If you have a cohabitation agreement and then later get married, your agreement becomes your new marriage contract. However, if you are not yet living together, then a marriage contract, also commonly known as a “prenuptial agreement” or simply a “prenup”, is key. Already married but without a pre-nup? You may still wish to consider a marriage contract, commonly called a postnuptial agreement.
While popular culture has given pre and post-nuptial agreements a bad image, they are highly effective tools for setting out the rights and obligations of each partner during a marriage. No one wants to start off their marriage by thinking about what happens if it ends. However, your lawyer can help you determine some major issues in advance, such as how you will organize the finances in your relationship, which could ultimately lead to a more peaceful union. Financial issues are often one of the most stressful topics for couples to deal with. And, should the worst happen, a marriage contract can set out how things like property will be divided or any spousal support obligations.
A marriage contract cannot control everything – for example, it cannot cover issues surrounding children, such as decision-making responsibility (formerly known as custody), parenting time (formerly known as access), or child support. But a marriage contract could help protect your most important asset – your home. Without a marriage contract, the matrimonial home is shared equally upon separation, regardless of whether one or both spouses are listed on the title or who paid for it – even if you owned the home before you got married. In the event of separation, a marriage contract can help prevent a long, drawn out or even ugly process. Having a contract in place that is filed with the courts can make any disputes simpler, or even avoidable, from the outset.
Whether you are an employer or an employee, you should have a written employment contract in place. The reality is that every employee has an employment contract even if it was never made on paper. The basis for that contract is usually the governing employment law – either the Employment Standards Act for most employees, or the Canada Labour Code in certain federally-regulated industries (banks, travel, etc.).
While the law may serve as the foundation (and a contract cannot offer anything below the legal minimums), it does little to protect employers and it does not offer employees much clarity. An employment contract can spell out the exact terms of work including salary, bonuses, overtime, vacation, benefits, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, etc.
Operating without a written employment contract can be a costly mistake for employers because it does not restrict what employees are owed if their employment is terminated. For employees, a contract can offer a sense of certainty and security, and provides clear expectations of what they need to do to succeed in their role.
There’s a common misconception that a will is only for older people. We remember commercials with people in their 70s and 80s talking about how to divide their estates. The truth is that none of us can predict the future, but a will helps us control the direction so that the things in life we love the most are cared for.
A will is more than just a will as we think of it. Depending on your circumstances you may have multiple wills that can dictate both your business and your personal affairs. A will can also include various forms of trusts, which can protect the inheritance you wish to pass on t minors, or someone incapable of handling their own affairs. Creating your will with a wills lawyer can make sure that all your bases are covered, and gives you the right peace of mind.
Power of Attorney
A will is for what happens after you pass away, but there may be a time before that where illness or injury prevents you from making your own decisions. This is unfortunately common with the very elderly, but can happen at any time due to a sudden illness or an unexpected injury. In those cases your decisions are made by a ‘power of attorney.’
A power of attorney is actually made up of two key documents – one for your property (including real estate, finances, and anything else that you own) and the other is for your personal care, i.e. medical decisions. The person that you name in these documents has the power to make key life decisions on your behalf, according to your wishes.
Without these documents, you could potentially have people that you don’t want making major decisions about what’s most important to you, so having them in place alongside a will can help you live how you want – even when you’re not the one in control.