Does the idea of writing a will conjure up images of Logan Roy divvying up the family’s yachts and summer houses?
Truth is, you don’t have to be old and rich to get a proper will. Writing a will isn’t about dolling out diamonds and cufflinks, and getting a good will doesn’t have to cost a lot.
In this article, we’ll explore your options for making a will, the pros and cons of each, and how much you can expect to pay to get a will that meets your needs.
What Is A Will?
A will is a legal document that captures your wishes for how your assets and possessions will be distributed when you die, and includes instructions for who should care for your children if they’re minors.
Why A Will Is Worth The Cost?
For most people, peace of mind is the single biggest reason that a will is worth the cost. Having a will is the only way to ensure that your assets and possessions will go on to benefit your loved ones and the causes that you care about, and that your children will be taken care of if you’re a parent.
When you die without a will, that’s called dying intestate, and it means that you don’t get to choose who benefits from your estate. The government will be tasked with distributing your assets to family and next of kin, a process can be very stressful, time-consuming, and costly for families.
A few other big potential consequences of dying without a will:
- A common-law-spouse may be left without a right to a share of the estate.
- If you have dependent children and no surviving parent, the court will appoint a guardian for your children.
There are different implications to dying without a will in every province in Canada, which we’ve covered in this article.
What Are The Costs of Not Having A Will?
When you die without a will, you’ll pass along costs to your family that far exceed the amount you would’ve spent on a will in the first place. Worse is the fact that dying without a will inevitably leads to family stress, turmoil, and strife.
A lack of clear instructions means your assets may go to the wrong people. And if your loved ones want to make a claim to the estate or dispute the court’s decisions, they’ll need to pay significant legal fees out of pocket.
On top of that, dying intestate means paying higher estate administration taxes, and less passed on to your loved ones. Your entire estate will have to go through probate, which means there will be a 1.5% tax on the value of your entire estate. There are also legal costs associated with applying for probate, which can range up to $5,000.
A few other downsides: you won’t be able to leave any gifts to charity without a will, and if you’re a parent, your children may end up with the wrong guardian.
The Costs of Making A Will in Canada
Average cost of a will in Canada
Of Canadians who don’t have a will, 18% say it’s because getting one would be too expensive. That’s a misconception. The cost of making a will varies depending on the complexity of your estate. That can range from free (using a template), to thousands of dollars. Unless you have a complex estate, you may be able to get a legal will that meets your needs for less than $200.
Some of the most affordable ways to get a well-constructed will include using a will kit, which can be effective for those on a budget with simple estates, or using online will services like Willful that will guide you through the process, while also making expert support available for your more complex questions.
When deciding on the right option for you, consider:
- How complex your estate is (say, if you’re passing on a business, multiple properties, etc.)
- How often you expect to update and change your will
- Whether you’ll need to spend more for related estate planning needs (assigning a power of attorney, registering your will, etc)
Cost of using a will kit or template:
A Canadian will kit usually consists of a written step-by-step guide and fill-in-the-blanks template. You can find these online or at more bookstores, and should expect to pay around $50 or less.
While it’s technically possible to find a free will kit or template, proceed with caution as there’s often an unexpected catch. The company may try to sell you something later on, and it’s hard to know whether the template was created by a legal expert.
Benefits of using a will kit
- A will kit is likely to be the cheapest option for making a will
- Can be completed offline which may be a benefit, depending on your preferences
- You’ll learn about the process of writing a simple will as you work through the kit.
- Usually covers all of your needs for a simple estate.
Downsides of using a will kit
- No live support. If you don’t have additional questions, you’ll need to do independent research or get extra help.
- Room for error: it’s up to you to make sure you understand all the legal terminology. If you make a mistake, there’s nobody to review your will and catch it.
- Difficult to make revisions: if you need to update your will, you’ll need to purchase a new kit and go through the full process over again.
- May not include associated documents like Power of Attorney.
- Not ideal for complex estates.
Cost of making a will with a lawyer:
Creating your will with an estate lawyer is the most expensive, but also the most comprehensive, option.
Working with a lawyer can range from an average of $300-400 for a simple will, climbing to $1,100-1,400 for more complex wills. Plus, you may pay extra for additional legal advice and documents related to estate-planning such as appointing a representative and power of attorney, which means you might end up paying closer to $1,600 all told. This can be billed as a flat fee or charged at an hourly rate.
Benefits of creating a will with a lawyer:
- A lawyer can help you work through a complex estate or complex instructions.
- A lawyer may be able to use creative strategies to reduce probate fees and taxes. If this is your goal, you should expect to work with a team of tax professionals (such as accountants) and will likely end up paying more than the lawyer’s fee alone.
Downsides of creating a will with a lawyer:
- Typically, there are extra costs associated with important aspects of estate planning such as assigning a Power of Attorney a representative.
- Hourly rates can exceed initial expectations.
- If you’re shopping on a budget, you may not have as much time as you would like with the lawyer, and they might not have the time to ask you as many questions as they should be asking.
- If you decide to update your will, you will likely have to pay more to consult with a lawyer once again.
Cost of making a will online:
Creating a will online with a service like Willful makes the do-it-yourself process quicker and easier to understand and costs a fraction of what you would spend on a lawyer. These services are simple and affordable, and a big benefit of these services over a will kit is that you have expert support available when you need it, and they’re easy to update. Creating a will with Willful starts at $99, and ranges up to $189 for packages that include power of attorney and will registration.
Benefits of online will creation:
- Ensure you don’t make mistakes with a guided process and helpful explanations, plus expert support.
- Affordability: you can make a will online for around $100, and upfront packages mean you won’t be surprised by hidden fees
- Easy to update: with Willful updates are included within your initial fee.
- Create a will anywhere, any time.
Downsides of online will creation
- If you want a high level of human support of prefer face-to-face interaction, you may not enjoy using an online will service
- If you have a very complex estate, you may not be able to capture the right level of detail needed.
Cost of a handwritten will:
A handwritten will, also called a holographic will, is generally free to create, though you may end up spending money on outside research or consultation. Writing a will requires legal knowledge, so for most people, the effort required to learn the ins and outs of estate law is simply not worth the trouble.
Generally, we only recommend a holographic will if you cannot afford a will otherwise as it leaves too much room for error.
Benefits of a handwritten will:
- Cost: a handwritten will is free.
- If you’re interested in learning about estate law, this could be a great way to apply your knowledge.
- If you enjoy working with paper and pen, you may find this option works well for you.
- You don’t require a witness for a handwritten will.
Downsides of a handwritten will:
- Easy to make errors and miss key details.
- Difficult to update: holographic wills cannot be typed, and you’ll need to rewrite the will when anything changes.
- Requires significant time and knowledge.
- May be contested if your instructions are unclear.
Choose A Will That Fits Your Budget And Needs
Having a will in place is the only way that you can feel confident that your intentions are honoured when you pass. You have options to create an affordable will and doing so will prevent your family from undue stress and expenses when you pass.