A new survey suggests advisors have an opportunity to discuss wills and powers of attorney with their clients.

According to a survey of more than 2,000 Canadians released by Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Co. (LawPRO) Monday, a majority of Canadian adults (56%) do not have a signed will.

The survey also reveals that 71% of Canadian adults do not have a signed power of attorney.

“The absence of a clear, signed will can become a divisive and contentious issue at a time when families are already experiencing grief, and can result in a range of complications, from belongings not going to the person they were intended for to court battles that cost thousands of dollars,” says Ray Leclair, acting vice president, public affairs, at Toronto-based LawPRO.

A will is a legal, written document that sets out the person’s wishes about how his or her estate should be taken care of and distributed after death. It takes effect when the person dies. A power of attorney is a legal, written document that gives someone else the right to act a person’s behalf while that person is alive.

Clients can name someone to make financial decisions for them with a continuing power of attorney for property. For personal care and health decisions if they get sick or injured, clients can name someone in a power of attorney for personal care.

“Without proper powers of attorney in place, Canadians put at risk their ability to be properly cared for without delay or legal proceedings should they become incapacitated — for example through a major accident that impairs their ability to make decisions. A power of attorney ensures that family members can access funds needed and have the authority to make important decisions about care,” adds Leclair. “The more than 70% of Canadians who do not have signed powers of attorney should be talking to their lawyers about both an updated will and signed powers of attorney to ensure their interests are protected now and in the future.”

According to the survey, Canadians tend to have a will made when they experience one of life’s major milestones. Having a child (30%), and experiencing a change in marital status (20%), were the most common events that prompted Canadian adults to get a will.

Only 13% of Canadians signed a will when they purchased a home or condo.

“Homebuyers have just made one of the most expensive purchases of their lifetimes. They’ve already engaged a lawyer as part of the home-buying process, making it an ideal time to also have a will and powers of attorney drawn up,” says Leclair.

The study found 88% of Canadians polled between the ages of 27 and 34 do not have a will and their most common reason for not having a will is because they believe they are too young (21%).

However, people in this age group experience significant life milestones like having children and buying a home — excellent reasons to ensure assets are cared for as they would like, via a will.

Results also indicate that 29% of Canadian adults do not have a will because they either do not know how to get started or believe they cannot afford one.

Working with a lawyer to create a will can cost as little as internet access for a year, LawPRO notes.

“Going to a lawyer rather than drawing up your own will significantly reduces the risk that assets will not go to those you had hoped to benefit. This is especially important in today’s world in which we see more common-law relationships, blended families, and second or third marriages,” says Leclair.

The online survey was conducted from March 21-22 among a sample of 2,013 Canadian adults who are also Angus Reid Forum panel members. The margin of error is +/- 2.18%, 19 times out of 20.