If you’re reading this, you’re either about to complete your will, or you already did. Congrats - this is a big step towards peace of mind and comprehensive end-of-life planning, and you are ahead of the 57% of Canadian adults who don’t have a will. 

A will isn’t a one-and-done document through; rather it’s a document that should change as your life changes. But how do you know when to update your will? When do you *need* to update it, vs. when you may want to? How can you make these changes- either with Willful or otherwise? This article breaks it all down so you’ll feel confident completing your will, and keeping it up-to-date over time. 

When To Update and Change Your Will

Your will is a legal document that outlines some overarching decisions related to your assets and your dependents. Your will outlines who will take care of minor children, pets, or other dependents if you were to pass away; and it outlines who will receive your assets when you’re gone. You may make changes to your will many times over your lifetime, or you may never need to update it. In general, you may want to update your will if: 

  • You move to a new province - each province has different legislation covering wills and estates (and Willful documents adhere to provincial legislation)
  • You have a child (or have more children) - unless you’ve accounted for unborn children in your will, you will likely want to add a child as a beneficiary, and if it’s your first child, add a guardian for their care 
  • You get married - in most provinces, unless your will has a “contemplation of marriage” clause, getting married invalidates your will - so you need to update it to reflect that you’re married
  • You get a new pet, or need to remove a pet
  • You get divorced - while almost all provinces have laws that state an ex-spouse cannot receive a gift in your will or act as your executor, removing them as a beneficiary or executor is best practice
  • You purchase an asset that you want to leave as a specific gift to someone
  • You sell an asset that is listed as a specific gift in your will, and you need to remove it
  • Someone named in your will either passes away, or is no longer able to take on the role anymore - for example your executor passes away, or the guardian you named for your children moves to Australia and isn’t a fit in that role anymore

Do I Need To Update My Will Every Time My Assets Or Net Worth Change?  

A will typically does not include a detailed listing of your assets, or a snapshot of your net worth - rather it covers your umbrella estate, which is everything you own except:

  • Assets you own jointly with someone else - for example jointly-held assets/investments, or homes/property owned jointly with rights of survivorship. Learn more about jointly-owned properties in our Guide to Estate Planning for Homeowners.
  • Assets with named beneficiaries on them - for example a life insurance policy that’s payable directly to someone, or a registered savings account or pension with a named beneficiary.

While it’s helpful to make a list of your assets and store them with your will so your executor has that information, there’s no need to update your will as you acquire or sell assets unless the asset is specifically addressed in your will (for example you’re leaving a car as a specific gift to a sibling, and you sell the car and need to remove it). Your assets change often - maybe even every year - so updating your will every time that happens would be onerous.

How To Update A Will

There are 3 ways to update your will including a codicil, making an amendment, and executing a new will.

Codicil To A Will

A codicil to a will is an addition to your will. It doesn't require changing the will itself; rather it attaches a statement that adds to or amends the will. This is typically drawn up by a lawyer. 

Amendment To A Will

It’s possible to make handwritten changes to your will by crossing things out or adding new information. It’s important to follow the requirements very carefully for a handwritten amendment - the changes must be signed by you and the witnesses who originally signed your will, and if you don’t follow those instructions, the changes may not be valid.

Execute A New Will 

With Willful, you make updates by executing a new will, which automatically revokes the previous version. You can also do this if you have a handwritten will, or a will created by a lawyer.

What If I Don’t Update My Will? What Happens Then?

We hear from folks all the time who have been meaning to update their will, but they just haven’t gotten it done. Maybe you’ve even made the updates, but you haven’t printed or signed the documents. Don’t worry - just because you’ve gone through a life change, it doesn’t invalidate your will. But it may mean that some of your wishes aren’t possible to fulfill, and it may cause you to default to intestacy (a fancy word for “dying without a will”). 

For example if you named executors or guardians who have since passed away, and you didn’t name any backups, the courts will take over appointing someone to administer your estate, and someone to act as guardian for your children. And if you named a beneficiary to receive a gift or assets and you didn’t name any backups, your assets may be distributed according to a provincial formula. 

How Often Should I Review My Will?

Your life is constantly revolving and while not every life change necessarily requires you to update your will, it’s important to review your will regularly to make sure you haven’t missed anything. At Willful, we believe keeping your will up to date is incredibly important and recommend reviewing your will at least once a year to make sure you have addressed any changes to your relationships, assets, or family situation. Consider setting a reminder in your calendar every 6 to 12 months, to make sure you never let your will sit on the shelf too long without being reviewed!

How Do I Update My Will With Willful?

It’s easy to make updates to your will on Willful - simply log in to your account at app.willful.co. You can expand any of the sections in your dashboard, and click “edit” next to each input to edit any piece of information in your will (see screenshot below). Once you make an edit, press “continue” to advance to the next page, and the information will be saved and reflected in your documents. Don’t forget to print, sign, and witness your updated document in order to make it legally-valid! In British Columbia you can complete these steps completely online.

Even if you currently have a will that you had drafted previously, you can still create an updated will with Willful. We’ll walk you through the process to ensure you have a document that fits your current life situation. Once you’ve printed and signed your new will, simply make sure to destroy any previous versions! 

Once I Update My Will, What Else Do I Need To Do?

If you make changes to your will you need to print, sign, and witness your new will correctly in order to make it legally-valid, and it’s best practice to destroy any older versions of your will so your family doesn’t find an out-of-date copy. In British Columbia, you can complete the steps to make your will legally valid entirely online. It’s still important to delete any older versions of your will.Updating your will via a lawyer varies in cost, but you would typically be charged at their hourly rate every time you update your will.

Things To Do After Amending Your Will

Once you’ve made the changes to your will, there are still a few things you should do to ensure that you’ve completed the process and that everything is in order in the event of an emergency. Some things you should consider doing after making a change to your will include:

  • Signing & witness the new or updated will to ensure it is legally-valid.
  • Destroying any previous versions as they are no longer valid.
  • Speaking to your executors and/or guardians. If you have designated new executors and/or guardians, this is a great time to make sure they are up to the task.
  • Storing your new will in a safe place that your executor has access to. If you have changed the location, it’s a good idea to let your executor know.
  • Re-register the will on the Canada Will Registry so it has info on the most current version of the will.
  • Review and make updates to other key estate planning tasks such as your power of attorney documents, life insurance and any burial/funeral wishes.

Do I Need To Register My Will Again If I Make An Update? 

When you register your will with Canada Will Registry, you include the date the will was executed—so if you execute a new will, you will want to register it again on the registry. Your Willful plan comes with one free will registration.

Make your will as unique as your life situation—enjoy easy updates to your will and start for free with Willful today.