Writing a will is an important process that everyone should consider, no matter their age or financial situation. A will is a legal document that outlines how a person's assets should be distributed after their passing. In Canada, having an up-to-date will is important for every adult, as it helps guide loved ones through the process of dividing assets and fulfilling other end-of-life wishes.
Step 1: Identify Key People Involved
The first step in writing a will is identifying the people involved. Here are some people who should be considered:
- Executor and Estate Trustee: You will need to appoint an executor who will be responsible for managing your estate and distributing assets according to your will after you pass away.
- Beneficiaries: You will need to name the people who will inherit your assets.
- Spouse: If you have a life partner, you should consider naming them as a beneficiary or executor in your will.
- Guardian: If you have minor children, you should appoint a guardian who will be responsible for taking care of them if you and the other parent pass away before they reach the age of majority.
- Charitable organizations: If you want to leave a portion of your estate to a charity, you will need to name the organization in your will.
- Pets: You can choose someone to take care of your pets after you pass away.
- Attorney for property: Someone who will make financial decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. Your spouse or trusted relative is a common choice.
- Attorney for health care: Someone who will make health care decisions on your behalf if you are medically unable to make them yourself.
- Backups: Executors and attorneys should have backups who will take their place if they are unwilling or unable to fulfill your wishes.
By identifying all of the key people involved in your estate, you can ensure that your end-of-life wishes are fulfilled and your assets are distributed according to your wishes.
Step 2: Communicate Your Wishes
It's important to have conversations with loved ones about end-of-life wishes, such as funeral arrangements and how assets should be distributed. This can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and can help prevent disputes after your passing.
You should also make sure that the person you chose to act as an executor or attorney is willing to take the responsibility. Fulfilling your end-of-life wishes can be emotionally difficult. We've written guides you can share with your attorneys to help them understand their role:
Step 3: Compile a List of Gifts
Specific gifts, also known as bequests, are specific pieces of property or monetary amounts given to individuals. The bequests are separate from the residue of your estate. For example, you could say you bequeath an engagement ring to your sister, $1000 to your nephew, and the residue of your estate is split among your children. If you had two children, they would each get half of everything left after the two gifts.
Be specific when writing the list of gifts. Identifying information like serial numbers engraved on a watch are important to avoid disputes later.
Step 4: Decide How to Write the Will
There are several options for writing a will in Canada. Each of these options has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you should consider them carefully before making a decision.
- Lawyer: Estate lawyers write wills every day. Lawyers are the only professionals in Canada who can give you legal advice if you have questions about writing a will. You should contact a lawyer if you have international assets, trust funds, or anything else complicated.
- Notary: British Columbia and Quebec allow notaries to write wills but the will is limited to simple situations.
- Online will platform: Platforms like LegalDeeds have been around since 1999 and write your will online for only $50. You only need to answer a few questions about how your estate should be distributed and the website customizes a legally valid will for your situation.
- Paper DYI will kit: Paper will kits were invented before online will platforms. The physical will kits were prone to errors because you had to be comfortable filling out legal forms. Very few people use paper will kits today because they are the same price as an easy online will.
Ultimately, the choice of how to write the will is up to you. The will does not need to be written by a lawyer or a notary to be legally binding. You should consider your budget, the complexity of your estate, and your personal preferences before making a decision.
Step 5: Avoid Common Mistakes
When writing a will in Canada, it's essential to avoid common mistakes that can render your will invalid. Here are some of the most common errors to steer clear of:
- Improper signing and witnessing: You must sign your will with a pen and initial the bottom of each page in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses must also sign the last page of your will. The person writing the will must be over the age of majority and mentally capable of making decisions. Additionally, the witnesses cannot have an interest in the will. That means your will is not legally binding if it was witnessed by close family members or anyone mentioned in the will.
- Storing the will online: Only the original physical copy of the will is legally valid in most Canadian provinces. British Columbia recently passed laws allowing wills to be signed virtually but paper wills are still more common as of 2023.
- Not informing anyone of your will's location: If your executor doesn't know where to find your will, it can create issues after your death.
- Creating a video will: A legal will in Canada must be written out, despite the common misconception that a video recording of your wishes is sufficient.
By avoiding these mistakes, you can create a valid will that ensures your final wishes are carried out according to your plans.
Common Questions When Writing A Will
Is it legal to write your own will in Canada?
Yes! In Canada, it's possible to write your own will without visiting a lawyer or adhering to a specific process. There are various ways to make a legal will in Canada yourself, such as using online wills, will kits, or even writing it out by hand.
Who can write a will in Canada?
Anyone over the age of majority and mentally capable can write a will in Canada.
Some provinces have laws allowing younger people to write wills but you would need to consult a lawyer to know if they apply to you.
Do you need a lawyer to write your will?
No, you don't need a lawyer or notary to write a will in Canada.
How often should you update your will?
Your will is a dynamic legal document that requires periodic updates to reflect changes in your life. Significant life events, such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, and the purchase or sale of assets, are all reasons to revisit and update your will. How frequently you update your will depends on how fast your life changes. Sites like LegalDeeds write a will for only $50, making it an affordable way to update your will online.
Do you list everything you own on a will?
You should not list everything on your will because it will become outdated very quickly. Significant items like a wedding dress can be gifted to specific people in your will but the bulk of your estate should be distributed as shares of your property.
Imagine you owned two cars and bequeathed them to two children in your will, then you sold one car before you passed away. One child who would have inherited a car gets nothing! Instead, if you had said each child receives an equal share of your estate, the remaining car would have likely been sold and each child would receive half the money.
Nevertheless, keeping a list of your assets can be helpful for your executor. If you maintain a detailed list of assets you can store it with the will, but not written into the will itself. That ensures the list is for convenience and is not legally binding.
Do you include funeral plans in a will?
Your will can list your preference to be buried or cremated. Specific details like playing a song during your funeral cannot go in the will. Even if you included other preferences in the will, the request may not be legally binding. Instead, you can write a letter to your executor and store it with the will. Most executors will honour your wishes even when they’re not legally binding.
How much does it cost to write a will?
The cost of writing a will in Canada depends on how you decide to create it. A lawyer-drafted will costs between $1,000 and $4,000. You would also have to pay a lawyer whenever you update your will.
With LegalDeeds, you can write a legal will for only $50 from the comfort of your home. Wills are legally valid in every Canadian province and answering questions on our website only takes 10 minutes. The final documents are emailed in PDF format within seconds.