Insights & advice
How to write a will
Writing a will is one of those things you know is important but can be challenging to put together. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A recent survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute showed that over half - Opens in a new window of adult Canadians don’t have a will.
There are several challenges when it comes to making a will – cost, understanding what’s required, and most importantly, the fact it forces you to think about something that can be uncomfortable, our own death.
Fortunately, there are resources to help you write a will and to decide what approach you will take. There is no legal obligation to write a will, but having one is important because it helps ensure your wishes are carried out after you die. This can include who receives your assets, such as cash savings, stocks or real estate. It can also include instructions about who will care for your children or other dependents, how you want to be remembered in ceremonies, such as a funeral, and even how your remains are disposed of.
Making a will in Canada
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) defines a will as a legal document that states how you want your estate to be divided after you die. Your estate includes what you own (assets) and what you owe (liabilities). If you don't have a will, the laws in your province or territory explain how your estate is divided.
One key item you should have in your will is the executor: This person is responsible for managing how your estate is distributed and ensuring the directions you left in your will are followed.
The duties of an executor can range from filing court papers to contacting people named in the will to discuss how the assets will be divided. If you don’t name an executor, provincial courts will do so after you die.
If you have children or dependents, you’ll want to name someone who would be responsible for caring for them after you die. This is an important decision that should not be made without careful consideration. It also leads to other questions and decisions, such as how the caring and raising of your children would be paid for and how involved your relatives would be in their lives.
The FCAC has more information - Opens in a new window about the process of estate planning and the specific laws in your province or territory.
Do you need a lawyer to make a will?
No. You can make your own will - Opens in a new window. This may be the most cost-effective way in the short term, however there are some important things to remember. First, if your estate and/or your wishes are complicated, then it might be worth seeking legal assistance. And how can you know if this is the case? For example, are you a business owner? Do you have debt that will need to be paid off after you die? Do you have assets such as property outside Canada? Do you have children from more than one partner? If you’re answering yes, then your will won’t necessarily be straightforward. It’s also important to make sure you know about all your assets – such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) or Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) and money you have in work pension plans.
Then there are your liabilities – such as a mortgage or a line of credit. Making a list of all your assets and liabilities (and the passwords and account information associated with them) can be a good start to this process. This information will also be useful to those charged with executing your will.
Seeking professional legal assistance with a will helps ensure all your documents are prepared and witnessed properly. There are also ways to reduce some of the costs you’ll get in legal fees. For example, if you feel your wishes and your estate are relatively simple, you could hire a lawyer to review a will you create on your own, as opposed to having the lawyer create one for you.
Can I handwrite a will?
Yes. You can write your own will, but make sure it is all in your own handwriting. Again, this may be a cost-effective solution in the short-term, but you run the risk of not including all the relevant information or leaving out necessary details.
How often should I update my will?
Adrian Mastracci, a portfolio manager who writes about personal finance, told the Globe and Mail that you should update your will every two to five years - Opens in a new window. It’s important to cover off major life changes such as the birth of children or grandchildren, and changes in your financial situation.
What is a will kit?
A Canadian couple making a will can expect to pay lawyer fees of over $1,000 - Opens in a new window. Companies such as Staples and Walmart offer do-it-yourself will kits for a lower cost However, whether you decide to go this less expensive route depends on your personal situation and how complicated your estate is.
The bottom line is that it’s a good idea to create a will, even if you're not sick or don't seek legal advice.
The information provided is based on current laws, regulations and other rules applicable to Canadian residents. It is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of the date of publication. Rules and their interpretation may change, affecting the accuracy of the information. The information provided is general in nature, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for advice in any specific situation. For specific situations, advice should be obtained from the appropriate legal, accounting, tax or other professional advisors.