Fact checked

This content has been reviewed by Canadian estate planning experts or legal professionals. Our editorial team is committed to ensuring the accuracy and currency of content related to estate planning, online wills, probate, powers of attorney, guardianship, and other related topics. Our goal is to provide reliable, up-to-date information to assist you in understanding these complex topics.

Codicils, Amendments, And Executing A New Will: How To Update And Change A Will

In this article:

    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 A 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

    Why Is It Important To Update A Will?

    Updating a will helps you make sure that your beneficiaries are up-to-date and that your assets are distributed in a way that reflects your current wishes. Life events such as changes in your finances, the birth of a child or grandchild, the death of a beneficiary, changes in your marital status, and changes in your health are all important reasons to update your will.

    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.

    1. Codicil To A Will

    A codicil is a will amendment. It doesn't require changing the will itself; rather it attaches a statement that adds to or amends the will.

    2. 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.

    3. 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 a Will be Updated?

    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 to Update a Will Without a Lawyer

    Updating your last will and testament is a crucial step to make sure your wishes are accurately reflected in your estate planning documents when your life circumstances change. It’s especially important if you’re welcoming any new children or family members into your life! 

    While consulting a lawyer is recommended for complex situations, you can make straightforward changes or even create a will without legal help. Below is a step-by-step guide for updating your own will for both handwritten and online wills.

    How to Update Handwritten Wills Without a Lawyer 

    1. Identify Changes

    Decide on the specific modifications you want to make to your will. Clearly understand the additions, deletions, or alterations needed.

    2. Draft Your Codicil or New Will

    • Codicil: If changes are minimal, consider drafting a codicil. This is a document that amends specific provisions of your existing will.
    • New Will: For substantial changes or to avoid confusion, creating an entirely new will may be more practical. You can easily do this online with Willful

    3. Sign and Date 

    Sign and date the codicil or new will in the presence of at least two adult witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will. Witnesses must also sign and date the document to confirm its authenticity. Once you complete this step, your codicil or new will is legally binding.

    4. Inform Your Executor

    Provide the updated will or codicil to your chosen executor. Make sure they are aware of the changes and know where the document is kept.

    How do I Update My Will With Willful?

    1. Access Willful

    Log in to your Willful account at app.willful.co

    2. Navigate to the Editing Section

    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).

    3. Make Desired Changes and Save

    Once you make an edit, press “continue” to advance to the next page, and the information will be saved and reflected in your documents. 

    5. Download and Print

    Download your updated will and print a physical copy. Note that this step may not be necessary if you live in a province where digital wills are legal, such as British Columbia.

    6. Sign and Date

    Sign and date your updated will in the presence of two witnesses who are adults and are not beneficiaries of your will. Once this step is complete, your updated will is legally binding and your previous will is immediately revoked.

    7. Inform Your Executor

    Provide the updated will to your chosen executor and/or communicate if you have changed where you store it.

    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. If your will isn't legally valid based on requirements for your province, it can be contested in court.
    • 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.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Do you need to update your will if your spouse dies?

    If your spouse has passed away and they were an executor or beneficiary of your will, you should update your will to change your executor and keep your beneficiaries up to date.

    Does a new will cancel an old will in Canada?

    Yes, the minute you sign your new will and make it legal, your old will is automatically revoked.

    Can a will be changed without the executor knowing?

    A testator can change their will whenever they want. They are under no obligation to consult with their executor before making changes to their will. Best practice, however, is to notify their executor whenever they update their will so the executor has a better understanding of changes to the will and knows where the new will is located.

    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.

    Willful vs. using a lawyer

    See how much you can save by choosing Willful

    What province do you live in?

    Willful vs. using a lawyer

    Do you want to create a will or a will and power of attorney documents?
    Do you want to create a will or a notarial will?
    Will only

    Will and Powers of Attorney

    Notarial will


    Willful vs. using a lawyer

    Besides yourself, how many additional family members need to create their will?

    Willful vs. using a lawyer

    Probate Fees in Saskatchewan and How to Calculate Them
    Is Your Common Law Partner Entitled to Inheritance?
    Common Law vs Marriage: Key Differences Explained

    Get peace of mind for you and your family by
    creating your will today.