In Ontario, the value of naming a beneficiary versus leaving money to your estate is significant.
If you name a beneficiary, an insurance company is obligated, under the Insurance Act, to pay any death benefit proceeds to the named beneficiary on record. Because the death benefit proceeds do not pass through the estate, they not only avoid the delays of settling the estate but also bypass probate and other estate administration fees. In Ontario, probate fees on assets over $50,000 are 1.5%. Other estate administration, accounting and legal fees could be another 5% or more depending on the complexity of the estate.
The other reason to name a beneficiary is it makes the transaction private. Unlike a will - which becomes a public document, available for anyone to see when it goes to probate - naming a beneficiary means that only the person named needs to know the specifics. The extra privacy can prevent jealousy and tension among those named (or not named) in a will and reduce bad feelings over "getting my fair share".
Do you have a Life Insurance Policy, a Registered Investment Policy (e.g. a RRSP) or a Segregated Fund Investment Policy? All of these should have both a primary and a contingent beneficiary named on the policy (not in your will).
If you're not sure whether you have named a beneficiary, get in touch with me and I'll be pleased to help you out.