Wills and estate planning can feel extremely overwhelming, but it’s actually a lot simpler than most people think. The confusion and misunderstanding around wills has resulted in a lot of Canadians avoiding or putting-off this extremely important life task. In fact, a study commissioned by Willful in 2020 found that over 64% of Canadians don’t have an up-to-date will.

In this article, we hope to demystify the topic of wills and provide you with everything you need to know about making a last will and testament in Canada.

What Is A Last Will and Testament? 

Your last will and testament (often simply referred to as a will) is a legal document that outlines how you wish to distribute your assets such as property, money, or care of minor children after you die. Your estate includes all your assets— anything you possess of financial or other value.

Your will is also where you name your executor who will be in charge of settling your affairs on your behalf.

Creating a will is an important responsibility of an adult and can be created once you reach the age of majority in your province or territory. Life is unpredictable but having a will can help us prepare for the unexpected and protect our loved ones from future chaos and complications.

Assigning an executor (instead of waiting for the courts to do so) helps provide access to the necessary accounts and property to settle your estate. Even if you do not own much in terms of assets, something as simple as access to clean out your fridge and personal belongings may be delayed if no legal executor has been chosen.

While all adults should have one, here are some key factors that drive people to create their will:

  • You recently got married or remarried

  • You are currently in a common-law marriage

  • You recently went through a common-law separation or divorce

  • You have assets such as a home or multiple properties

  • You have a child(ren) and/or other dependants

  • You own valuable heirlooms such as art or jewelry

  • You have assets that as a result of your death may cause tension among surviving family

  • You own a business or investments

  • You have a cause that really matters to you that you wish to donate to

If any of the above situations apply to you, we highly recommend creating a will as soon as possible so you can have peace of mind that your assets will be distributed among your loved ones, in the way you intended.

What Happens If I Die Without A Will?

In the event you die without a will, the law says that you have died “intestate,” meaning that you haven’t left any instructions as to how you would like your property to be divided and distributed.

So what does that mean for your assets?

In these circumstances, your property will be divided according to the laws of the province or territory you live in. Usually, this is a set formula that the courts will decide on and ultimately your wishes or outcome will not be the same as what the courts choose. Negative implications if you choose not to make a will, or do not get the chance before you pass on, may include but are not limited to:

  • Your estate may not be divided how you want it to be
  • The court will decide who becomes the caregiver of any children
  • Financial and emotional difficulties for your spouse and family (especially for those who are in common-law relationships)
  • A missed opportunity for any charitable donations
  • The time it takes to close your affairs may take months and even years longer than if you had a written will

We’ve all heard stories before about celebrities who die without a will. But the drama and consequences are not exclusive to those with fame and massive fortunes.

Do I Need A Lawyer or Notary To Prepare A Legal Last Will And Testament?

Canadian law and government regulations do not require you to create your will with a lawyer or notary. A lawyer can assist if you need legal advice, but most people have simple and straightforward estates that do not require legal advice.

There are many ways to legally make your will with or without a lawyer. You can even draft your will on a blank piece of paper if it’s signed and witnessed correctly. That being said, by using platforms like Willful, you'll get complete instructions to make sure your will is legally-binding.

What Is A Last Will And Testament Form And Where Can I Get One?

In Canada, there is no standard last will and testament form. How you choose to draft your will is 100% up to you, as long as you meet the criteria for what makes a will legally-valid.

There are many templates available for free or at a cost which can help guide you through creating your will. However, using a pre-set template is not always the best option as it will not account for your unique life situation.

Online platforms, like Willful, offer a customizable alternative to last will and testament forms. By asking you questions about your life situation and location of residence, we help guide you through the process and ensure that you don’t leave out anything important. All documents are lawyer approved and ensure that you don’t include any contradictions or common mistakes and errors.

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How Is My Will Used After I Die?

After you pass away, your will acts as a roadmap to help guide your executor as they settle your affairs. The executor of your will is responsible for carrying out the wishes you’ve outlined.

Once your will has gone through the probate process, your executor will distribute your assets as requested, which could include transferring ownership, paying off your debts, filing income tax returns, and distributing any remaining assets according to the terms of the will. Sometimes an executor is referred to as your personal representative.

Read More: What Happens If I Die With Debt?

What Should I Do After I Create My Will?

It’s not over yet! Once you’re happy with your Will and it’s been signed and stored in a safe place here’s what to consider next.

  • Update it after life changes: It’s essential to keep your Will up-to-date as life changes. Consider setting a calendar reminder every 6 or 12 months, so your Will doesn’t collect dust and reflects your most current wishes.

  • Let your executor know you’ve picked them: It’s a role that requires a lot of responsibility; therefore you should inform the person they’ve been chosen in order to avoid any surprises down the road.

  • Tell your executor and or family where it’s located: A Will is pretty useless if nobody can find it! Make sure to let a trusted family member or your executor know where they can access it should something happen to you.

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Other Common Questions About Last Will and Testaments in Canada

Where Should I Store My Will?

An original copy of your will should be stored somewhere safe, in a place that is known and accessible to your Executor. If you’re keeping your will at home, we recommend storing it in a fireproof box or bag. Keep it away from moisture, direct sunlight or anything else that can impact the paper and ink.

You want your documents to be clearly legible for your Executor and any institution that may need to see it.

Another good option is a safety deposit box. Make sure your family or Executor will have access to it when you pass away, by double checking with the bank in advance.

When And Why Do I Need To Update My Will?

A will is not a one-and-done type of document. It’s a living and breathing document and should reflect life’s changes as they happen. Monumental moments like the birth of a child, purchase of a new home, marriage or divorce are all life events that can directly affect and change your wishes.

An outdated will may mean your assets could end up with someone that you’re no longer associated with such as a former spouse or common-law partner. At Willful, we firmly believe that keeping an updated will is paramount and doing a yearly check-in can help prevent outdated wills.

Does Where I Live (Or Move) Affect My Will?

In Canada, a will written in any province will be valid in other provinces, so long as its provisions do not contradict the laws of the province it is being applied in. There are differences in the laws, but courts will do whatever they can to carry out the clear intent of a will drafted in another jurisdiction.

At Willful, we ensure that each template document we create uses the correct terminology and verbiage outlined by the regulations of each province. We partner with local estate planning lawyers in each province who keep us updated on any changes in the law that could impact our customers and their documents.

Can I Digitally Sign And Store My Will?

You’ll need to grab a pen, because only the physical, printed copy of a will with the original signatures is valid in most Canadian provinces. To maximize the likelihood that your requests are met, you will need a will that is physically printed and signed by you and your witnesses in writing. You may sometimes hear the term wet signature which just means a signature that needs time to dry or is signed in ink.

Who Can Act As A Witness When I Sign My Will?

Once you have drafted your will, and it accurately reflects your wishes, you must sign it in the presence of at least two witnesses, and the two witnesses must also sign the will in the presence of you the “testator.”

Your witnesses could be any two adults; friends, neighbours or co-workers. The witness cannot be a beneficiary of the will, the spouse of a beneficiary at the time of signing, or a minor. After the printed document is signed and witnessed, it becomes your legal last will and testament.

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All information in our Learn Centre is general and public information that can also be researched through your provincial attorney general website.