We get a lot of questions from customers about online wills — how are they different? are they the right fit for me? and…. are they really legal?
To help you decide if an online will is the right fit for you, we’re addressing all the common questions around online wills and how to make them below.
What Is An Online Will?
First things first, what exactly are we talking about when we refer to an online will? At Willful, an online will is a document that we help you create by asking you relevant questions about your life situation. Once we have all the information about your end-of-life wishes, we create a customized legal last will and testament for you.
Are Online Wills Legal?
We get asked all the time about whether our wills are legally-binding. In short - yes they are! However, there are some steps that need to be taken in order for it to meet the criteria for a legal will in Canada. Each province has its own legislation governing wills and estates law, but the basic requirements are the same across the country.
It’s important to understand that what makes a will legally-valid in Canada is not determined by whether it was created by a lawyer or the specific method in which it was created.
What Makes a Will Legal In Canada?
Regardless how you make your last will and testament, the basic criteria for a legally-binding will in Canada are as follows:
- You must be the age of majority in your province – The age at which you’re allowed to make a will varies across provinces and certain jurisdictions allow a minor to create a will if they have been married, have children, or have a common-law spouse. Our Glossary covers the age requirements by province.
- Written by you in sound mind – You are of rational mind and aware of what you are doing.
- Signed with a wet signature in the presence of two witnesses – A typed will must be printed, and signed on paper with ink at the end of the document by the testator (you, the maker of the will). Only the printed and signed version of the will is legally-recognized. With the exception of British Columbia, which allows residents to sign, witness and store their wills completely online.
- Signed by two witnesses in the presence of the testator – Your witnesses cannot be beneficiaries of your estate. Note that the signature or the acknowledgement of the signature by the testator must precede the signature of either witness.
If the will is not signed properly, it is not legally-valid and it’s likely you will be considered to have died intestate.
With Willful, we help guide you through the process of ensuring your online will is a valid and legal document. Every document comes with an instructions page with each of our documents that outlines the requirements in your province and witnessing details. All Willful documents also include signature and initial boxes to clearly indicate where each person should sign.
Holographic wills (written on paper by you), are exempt from the criteria above. Holographic wills often do not require two witnesses. However, it’s important to note that holographic wills are not legally-valid in BC if you own real property (like a home), and they are not recognized in PEI.
There are also some exceptions to the formal requirements for those in military service, members of armed forces, and mariners.
There is no law that says a will has to be drafted by a lawyer - as long as you meet the conditions above, your will is legally-binding.
What Are The Benefits Of Using An Online Will Platform?
The benefits to making an online will using a platform like Willful include:
- Cost – a fraction of the cost of visiting an estate lawyer. If you have a simple estate, you don’t need to visit a lawyer (in many cases). A platform like Willful is sufficient in about 90% of cases
- Convenience – you can create your will at home or at work without having to make an appointment or work around someone else’s schedule.
- Time – once you’ve made key decisions (your executor, guardians, beneficiaries), actually using a platform like Willful to create your will online takes less than 20 minutes, and you can do it at a date and time that’s convenient for you
- Simplicity - we ask you the important questions and walk you through the process, so making your will is simpler than ever
Who Would Benefit From Making An Online Will?
Willful and online wills may be a fit for you if:
- You own property in Canada
- You have assets/investments in Canada
- You have a child or children
- You have a pet and want to assign a guardian and/or leave a part of your estate to that guardian for their care
- You want to leave specific gifts (for example art or jewelry)
- You want to leave a cash gift or percentage of your estate to charity
- You’re single, legally-married, divorced, or in a common law relationship (if you’re separated, there are complexities that will require visiting a lawyer)
- You don’t have any complex “if this then that” scenarios - you have several beneficiaries you will split the estate amongst, but don’t need to create any unique stipulations
- You want to create power of attorney documents in order to outline your wishes and appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf if you become ill or incapacitated (sometimes known as a living will)
About 90% of Canadians have simple estates that we are able to support at Willful. Click here to preview a sample will.
If you’re not sure if your estate is simple enough, reach out and we can help discuss if we’re the right fit. If you need additional resources to support your situation, we’re happy to point you to a law society in your province.
Which situations add complexity, and may require speaking with a lawyer, tax specialist, or financial advisor?
There are some life situations and wishes that add complexity to your will. Here are some examples of situations that would benefit from assistance from a lawyer, tax specialist, or financial advisor:
- You own property outside Canada (there are tax implications, and one may want to create multiple wills in different jurisdictions where property is held)
- You have an out-of-province or out-of-country executor (they may be required to post a bond against your estate, and there can be tax implications)
- You want to disinherit someone from your will
- You would like to add custom clauses (such as complex “if this, then that” scenarios)
- You live outside one of our active provinces (right now we help people create wills in Ontario, BC, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Manitoba, and New Brunswick)
- You’re separated, but not divorced
- You’d like to create a dual will (for business owners)
- You need to set up a Henson trust (created for children with a disability)
- You want to create a Life Interest trust (this gives someone the ability to live in or benefit from your property or assets until they pass away)
- You have a blended family (Willful may not be right for people with blended families, as even in the most straightforward of cases as there are often special considerations)
- You want legal advice
Read More: Complex Situations That May Require a Lawyer
Can An Online Will Be Contested In Court?
Any will can be contested in court.
Regardless if your will was created online, written on a napkin, or even created by a seasoned estate lawyer, it can be contested in court. Whether your will is legally valid when created and whether it holds up in court if contested are two completely separate things. It’s up to the judge who is evaluating that specific will to determine whether it reflects your wishes and whether to uphold it.
It is important to note that while any will can be contested, creating a will that clearly expresses your intentions is the best way to ensure it holds up in court.
Can I Update My Will Online?
No matter how your will is created, you can and should keep it updated to reflect your current wishes. Life events like the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, or changes to beneficiaries and executors should prompt you to review your will.
One of the major benefits of online wills is ease of updates. At Willful, we believe in helping our customers keep their estate documents up to date, so you can easily make changes, anytime.
It’s important to note that when you make an update, you have to print and have your will signed correctly in order to make it legally-binding. At the time the new will is signed, the older will automatically becomes invalid, and you should destroy it. Make sure to inform your executor that you’ve created an updated version if you are storing it somewhere different.
Read More: How To Update And Change My Will
Can I Store My Will Online?
Unfortunately the law in Canada does not support signing or storing wills online at this time. This applies to all wills, regardless how it was created.
While it is absolutely legal to use an online tool to create your will, you always need to print and have your will signed correctly, store it in a safe place, and inform your executor of its whereabouts so they know where to find it when you pass away.
Registering your will on CanadaWillRegistry.org is a good way ensure your executor knows where it is - so if they forget, or you forget to tell them, your executor can perform a search to find out exactly where it’s located. By registering your will, a lengthy search (and the stress and potential costs that come with it) is easily avoided. When you make a will with Willful, you get one free will registry ($40 value).
In Which Provinces Can I Make An Online Will With Willful?
Willful is available in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
We’re actively working on expanding to Yukon, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories. If we are not yet available in your location and you would like to be notified when we are, please create an account with Willful. When you select your location, a prompt will appear to add your email to our list and you will be notified with all the details when we are available there.
Finishing Your Online Will During COVID-19
Canadian law requires that in order to be legally-binding, will and power of attorney documents must be physical, printed documents that are signed in the presence of two (2) witnesses, and those witnesses must also sign the will.
Understandably, finalizing your will may be a challenge as you follow the Canadian government's recommended measures for COVID-19 prevention (for example, physical distancing).
Here are some useful resources to help you finalize your Willful will while minimizing contact with your witnesses:
- Finishing Your Will During COVID-19
- Ontario and British Columbia Governments Approve Virtual Witnessing during COVID-19
We understand that estate planning can be confusing and overwhelming. You may find the answer to many of your questions in our Learn Centre, but we’re always here to help! Feel free to use our live chat feature, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a call if you have any questions.