The Top 10 Reasons For Your Legal Checkup
We all know that it’s good practice to go to the doctor once a year for a health checkup. This yearly checkup lets us know if we are healthy. It also alerts us to potential health problems in the future that can we can avoid by taking immediate action.
Just as you go to the doctor for a health checkup, or the mechanic for a car tune-up, you should also be doing a yearly legal checkup. A yearly legal checkup does the same thing that your yearly health checkup does. It lets you know if you are legally ‘healthy’ (whether or not your legal rights are in immediate danger) and it alerts you to potential problems down the road that can be avoided by taking a few simple steps now. Thus, we have compiled a list of the top ten things that every person should do once a year to protect their rights and avoid potential legal problems in the future.
1. Ensure Your Will, Personal Directive and Enduring Power of Attorney Are Up to Date
Thinking about and planning for death is never something that people want to do. Although planning for your death might seem grim, those who don’t plan for it must accept the very real possibility that their assets will not be distributed how they want them to be. Even worse, they run the risk of leaving their loved ones with a complicated mess to sort out.
Circumstances in life are constantly changing and is a prime reason why you should checkup on your estate documents. Your will should reflect changes for it to be as effective as possible. Did you acquire new assets in the last year? Are your children no longer minors? Have you changed your mind about a certain charity that you once supported and left money to in your will? These scenarios (and many more) will change how you want your assets to be distributed.
There are strict laws that dictate whether a will, or a portion of that will, is valid. This is because when a will is unclear, or is challenged by someone who disagrees with the distributions in the will, the will-maker is no longer around to clarify what their true intention was. Therefore, it’s important to have your will drafted by a wills and estates lawyer. These lawyers are experts in wills and estates law and can greatly reduce the risk of your will being misinterpreted or challenged in the future. Thus, it’s extremely important to have a will in place and to update that will every year.
2. Check Your Credit Report for Inaccuracies and Fraud
Your credit report provides lenders, potential landlords and even potential employers with information on how well you manage your credit. Doing a checkup on this report yearly can detect inaccurate information. Inaccurate information on your credit report can negatively impact your eligibility for loans, increase the interest rate that creditors charge and even prevent you from being eligible to rent a house or apartment. It can also alert you to attempted identity theft.
Ordering your own credit report is called a “consumer initiated credit report” and does not affect your credit score and is a good thing to checkup on. Equifax Canada and Transunion Canada will provide you with a free credit report once a year. You can order this by mail, fax or telephone. You can also order your credit report online and view it instantly if you pay a fee. The Government of Canada suggests ordering a credit report from one of these companies at the beginning of the year. You can then order a second credit report from the other company six months later. This way you can take advantage of two free credit reports per year. This means that you will be alerted more quickly to inaccuracies and attempted identity theft. Visit the Government of Canada website for more information.
3. Review Your Business Licenses and Permits
If you operate a business then it’s important to ensure that you’re following the applicable regulations and guidelines in order to avoid fines or, even worse, the possibility of your business being shut down. Check to make sure your license and/or permit is not expired. Put a renewal alert in your cellphone calendar to remind you to apply for renewal one month before your license/permit expires. Review the regulations/guidelines surrounding your business to make sure you’re complying with them. Regulations for licenses and permits frequently change and reviewing them once a year is a small effort that can avoid big consequences down the road.
4. Review Your Real Property Report (RPR)
This component of the legal check-up applies to homeowner’s only. An RPR illustrates the boundaries of your property line and improvements made to the exterior of that property. Updates such as cement pads, sheds over 100 square feet or an air conditioning unit on the side of your house must to be included on your RPR. You are not required to update your RPR each time you make a change to your property. However, if/when you sell your home you must provide the buyer with an RPR that accurately reflects the property boundaries and the structures relative to those boundaries.
You will need to hire a land surveyor to update your RPR. Since selling your home can entail numerous other expenses (realtor commissions, cleaning fees etc.) updating your RPR as changes to the property occur means one less expense for you if/when you decide to sell your home in the future.
5. Review and Update Your Insurance Policies
Have you acquired a new asset in the last year? Sold a large asset? Renovated your home? Changes such as these should be reflected on your home insurance policy to ensure that you are fully compensated for any damage or loss that occurs in the future. Home insurance policies will often have a ball-park value for different categories of assets in your home such as electronics, jewelry and collectibles. Sometimes a new asset is worth more than what your policy covers. All too often people discover this too late and are not fully compensated for the loss of that asset in the unfortunate event that the asset is damaged, lost or stolen.
Auto insurance companies will send an offer for automatic renewal prior to the expiry of your insurance policy. These automatic renewals might not accurately reflect the current condition of your vehicle. For example, as your vehicle gets older, having less collision coverage on your vehicle could lower your deductible.
6. Getting Married? Moving in With That Special Someone?
If you’re getting married it’s a good idea to discuss debts and assets with your partner. Once you’re married you and your partner are the same person in the eyes of the law. This means that your spouse’s assets and debt are now your assets and debt. A prenuptial agreement is always a good idea. Just like wills, prenuptial agreements aren’t something that people want to talk about because it means planning for an unfortunate event. However, planning ahead “just in case” can save you time, money and emotional stress down the road.
Moving in with your partner? Know the legal consequences of doing so. All too often people decide to move in together without realizing that in Alberta, after three years of living together, they are in an “adult interdependent partnership.” Although an adult interdependent partnership is not the same thing as marriage, there can still be unexpected legal consequences upon separation. It is important to be aware of these potential legal consequences and discuss them with your partner before making the decision to live together.
7. Review Your Child Support Order
If you are paying child support you should review the child support guidelines and your income every year to ensure that you are paying the correct amount of child support for your income level. You can access Alberta’s child support guidelines on the Government of Canada’s website. It’s important to keep in mind that these are rough guidelines and don’t consider every factor that determines the amount of child support. Similarly, if you are the parent receiving child support for your child it’s a good idea to ensure that you’re receiving the correct amount.
The Child Support Recalculation Program is a free service offered by the Alberta Government that automatically recalculates child support each year. You can find more information about the program on the Government of Alberta website.
8. Change Your Passwords
Today everything from banking information to insurance policies can be accessed online. Thus, it’s a good idea to change your passwords every few months. However, most people consider this a hassle. Changing your passwords even once a year will greatly decrease your chances of falling victim to identity theft or fraud.
As a rule of thumb, you should never have the same password for all of your accounts. Always keep an updated list of passwords for online banking, social media accounts, government accounts etc. and keep this in a safe place with your will.
9. Review Your Employment Contract and Know Your Rights
Review your employment contract and employee rights a month or two before your contract is up for renewal (again, set an alert in your phone for this). Employees in Alberta are not entitled to paid vacation time in their first year of employment, but they are entitled to two weeks paid vacation in their second year of employment with the same company. This, and numerous other rights change as your time with a company increases. The Alberta Government website provides a straightforward break down of your rights as an employee. A quick review of this before you renew your employment contract will ensure that your rights and benefits as an employee are protected.
10. Conduct a Courthouse Search for Default Judgments Made Against You
If someone files a claim against you and you didn’t receive notice of this claim, then you could have a default judgment made against you. A default judgment is a binding judgment in favor of one party that is based on the other party’s failure to take action (i.e. failing to respond to the claim made against you or failing to attend court). Your local courthouse can conduct a search to let you know if there are any default judgments made against you. The Alberta Courts website provides more information on default judgments and what your options are if one is made against you.
Want help with your legal checkup? Contact Us!
We are here to help! If you are wanting to make sure that your legal checkup is healthy, contact Kahane Law Office in Alberta. Our team of experienced wills and estates, corporate, family and real estate lawyers can assist.
You can reach us in Calgary at 403-225-8810 (toll-free at 1-877-225-8817), or email us here directly.