Larry Fisher updates his free estate planning checklist
In 2010, Larry Fisher’s brother died unexpectedly at age 63. Prior to his death, Fisher’s brother had arranged his will and asked Fisher to be the executor. “I felt kind of honoured that he asked me,” says Fisher. “I also [believed] that it would be many more years into the future that I would deal with this issue, and I’d have lots of time to learn.”
But Fisher did not have lots of time. Shortly after his brother’s death, he went to his brother’s bank in Fenwick to retrieve account information so that he could begin to make the necessary arrangements.
“I was told that they would let me pay one month of my brother’s utility bills, but that the rest of the estate was going to be frozen.”
The bank manager contacted their Toronto office and decided to “probate” the will, meaning that it had to be legally verified.
“The next day, I got a phone call from the bank’s office. They said, ‘We’re very sorry for your loss, Mr. Fisher, but would you like us to take over your responsibilities as executor?’ And when I realized that the minimum cost was going to be over five thousand dollars, I decided to do it all myself.”
Fisher, who grew up in Fenwick and now lives in Wainfleet, did do it all himself, and since doing so has devoted hundreds of hours to helping others do the same.
He developed a seven-page “Estate Planning Checklist” of 144 items, which, up until early 2018, he had presented in more than a dozen seminars, and provided freely to anyone interested.
“I don’t charge for my time,” Fisher told the Voice two years ago. “It’s just my way of helping the community.”
After an earlier version of this story ran in the paper, in January 2018, Fisher said he was given some grief by the Law Society of Ontario, asserting that he was offering legal advice. This prompted Fisher to stop offering his seminars.
The Voice didn’t learn of this until recently, when the newspaper contacted Fisher to see whether he had updated his checklist for these pandemic times. After all, it seems more sensible than ever to have one’s own, and one’s loved ones affairs in order, in the event that COVID-19 strikes with lethal effect.
“After I got my ‘cease and desist’ letter from the Law Society, I changed the name from ‘Estate Planning Checklist’ to “Helpful Info for My Daughters,” said Fisher last week.
“I believe I should be entitled to share the information that I learned or researched, as I do not consider it legal advice. So I prepared this for my two daughters.”
I believe I should be entitled to share the information that I learned or researched, as I do not consider it legal advice
The Voice emphatically agrees. The newspaper is providing a PDF copy of Fisher’s checklist to anyone who wishes to download it. A link appears at the end of this article.
As Fisher sees it, the death of a loved one brings such emotional turmoil that executors often don’t know what to do.
“I don’t believe [most people] will be so honoured or excited about this unknown territory they will have to enter into. Most people take no action to try and learn the duties and requirements of an executor. Many people assume that it’s easy, that you read the will and do what it says.”
Fisher, who is 71, explains that the checklist “is so that people can have all of their affairs in order before they die, making sure that their executor has all the information that is needed. Executors have a right to know about what their job entails, and they shouldn’t be left with such a heavy burden.”
Fisher’s position on this is echoed by most experts on the matter. The author of the “Canadian Guide to Will and Estate Planning,” Douglas Gray, says that being an executor is "probably the most stressful experience you'll ever have."
The list’s 144 items vary widely, from the obvious items, including date of birth and Social Insurance Number, to others that most wouldn’t think of. Many of these obscure responsibilities have been added by Fisher in the years since his brother’s death, though some came directly from his experience.
“Some time after my brother died, I got a call from an old friend of his. She asked me if I knew that she had stored some things with him—an old telephone and three brass portholes. I had no idea, and was actually just about to have those things valued at about a thousand bucks each,” says Fisher, adding that such seemingly little things can become a major headache.
Fisher has spent countless hours researching and compiling this information, a daunting task for someone who is not legally trained.
“I’m always for the little person,” says Fisher. “And I don’t like to see people spending money on lawyers when they don’t need to.”
I’m always for the little person. And I don’t like to see people spending money on lawyers when they don’t need to.
But despite this lack of legal training, Fisher was an experienced researcher before taking on estate planning. For years, he worked for the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, mostly representing employees in arbitration cases on disciplinary action.
“I had a good record, too,” says Fisher. “The lawyers would have to take on three, four, maybe five cases a week, whereas I took on about one a week. I would spend a long time reading up and researching past cases beforehand.”
Since his brother’s death, Fisher has put together 19 documents —some 400 pages—to inform people of the legal significance at difficult or emotional intense times of their lives, such as getting married or getting divorced.
“When it comes to separation, one partner tends to keep the other in the dark until they’re in a really good position,” says Fisher. “They’ll have hidden money away, or done something else that will make things difficult for other partner.”
To Fisher, the emotional turmoil of such times inevitably makes it more difficult to navigate the legal labyrinth that follows a divorce or death.
The more prepared one can be ahead of time, the less stressful the process may be to endure.
Find Fisher’s checklist here: https://bit.ly/3iRN5fU
In addition, Fisher has compiled four marriage-related checklists into one document: 1. Things to know about your partner before you get married (80 items); 2. Things to know after you are married (21 items); 3. Things you should do after you are married (35 items); and 4. Planning for separation and or divorce (49 items). This is list may be found at: https://bit.ly/3k5nBgy
Be advised that neither Fisher nor the Voice is offering legal advice, and Fisher’s list should not be considered as such. To ensure that their estate planning is in accordance with the law, those preparing their wills are advised to consult an attorney.
With additional reporting by Dave Burket.