There is a common misconception that you need a lawyer to write a will in Canada. 

Fortunately, making a will in Canada is much simpler than you might think! A legal will can be prepared in any sort of written medium – that includes handwritten wills.

In Canada, a handwritten will is called a holographic will. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about a holographic will, what makes it legal, and if a holographic will is the right fit for you. 

What Is A Holographic Will?

A holographic will is a handwritten will created and signed by you, the testator, without the help of any mechanical processes. 

If you use any mechanical device (including computers, typewriters, phones etc.) it is no longer considered a holographic will. In order to make a holographic will, you typically only need a pen and paper, and yourself of course.

What Is The Difference Between A Holographic Will And Other Types Of Wills?

The biggest difference between a holographic will and other types of wills (often referred to as formal wills), is that it needs to be written by hand by you. If any part of the will has been written with the help of mechanical processes, it would not be considered a holographic will. For example, filling in the blanks of a printed will kit would not meet the requirements of a holographic will.

Another key difference is that a holographic will does not require any witnesses.

Is A Holographic Will Legal And Valid In Canada?

Yes, a holographic will is legal and valid in Canada. However, there are certain provinces, including BC and PEI that do not recognize holographic wills.

Keep in mind that it will still need to accepted by probate courts. Since holographic wills do not have witnesses, they will need to sufficiently determine that the will was actually written by you, without pressure from anyone else.

What should be included in a holographic will?

Holographic wills should typically include the same information as any other formal will. First and foremost, it should include the full name of the testator (the person writing the will) and confirmation that you intend it to be your last will.

Some other wishes you should consider including in a holographic will include:

However, holographic wills tend to be simpler and shorter than most other formal wills since they are typically used as a last-minute document.

While witness signatures are not needed on a holographic will, you will still need to sign it yourself for it to be considered a holographic will.

Do I need witnesses for a holographic will?

No, you do not need witnesses for a holographic will. Holographic wills are the only type of will in Canada that does not require the signature of two witnesses. 

Is a holographic will the right fit for me?

It depends on your situation! Holographic wills are a great option for people who do not have access to any other resources or are unable to sign in front of witnesses. However, it may not be the best fit for you.

When a holographic will may be the right fit for you:

Holograph wills may be a good fit if this is the only option you have, and even then, you need to do your research to ensure they’re worded in a way that avoids contradictions.

They might be a good option if you have a legal background and know how to word/phrase your will without contradicting yourself.

It also may be an appropriate option if you have no other options and are unable to sign in front of witnesses. Unlike a formal will, it can be prepared quickly in an emergency. For example, in a famous example of a holographic will in Saskatchewan, a man was being crushed by his tractor and scratched a his final wishes into the side of his tractor using a pocket knife. The courts determined the will to be a valid holographic will.

When to avoid a holographic will:

While they’re cost-effective, most people don’t have legal backgrounds, and therefore we can contradict ourselves, or leave important things out. They also aren’t ideal if you need to make updates. 

In some provinces like BC, holographic wills cannot be used to distribute or deal with real property (such as a home or land), and they are not recognized at all in PEI.

Holograph wills may be a good fit if this is the only option you have, and even then, you need to do your research to ensure they’re worded in a way that avoids contradictions.

If you choose to go this route, ensure you only keep the most recent copy, and inform your executor about your holographic will. For example, Aretha Franklin’s family only found her holographic will almost a year after she passed away, and they found multiple versions that contradicted each other. 

What are the alternatives to a holographic will?

While holographic wills are a great low cost and In Canada, there are many ways to make a legal will. Here are some different ways to make your will:

Depending on your unique life situation, there are pros and cons to using all of the above options.

Fortunately, creating a will doesn’t necessarily need to be complicated. Using online platforms like Willful, you can create a legal will in less than 20 minutes, from the comfort of your home.