A Guide to Your Last Will and Testament

According to a 2018 study, over 50% of people don’t have a last will and testament in Canada. If you’re among that group, then you’ve probably said to yourself – “I’m too young” or “I don’t have enough assets to need one”. In reality, however, many people who should have a will, don’t.

Understanding A Last Will and Testament – What is it?

Your estate is comprised of everything you own – your assets, belongings, savings, and more. The best way to understand a Last Will and Testament (also simply known as a Will) is seeing it as a legal document that outlines how your assets should be divided and your estate should be dealt with upon your death. It’s considered part of your estate plan, which is the process of deciding how things should be dealt with when you die. Estate planning includes many other things such as instructions for your care if you become disabled before your death, or passing on your values (religion, education, etc.). In this article, we’ll be focusing solely on wills.

What Should my Will Include?

Your will should address anything important to you, but here’s a quick checklist to start:

  • Choose an executor or estate trustee: The person you want to carry out the instructions of your will. You should also award your executor the right to manage your estate and pay any remaining debts or estate taxes.
  • Who will inherit your property/money?
  • Who will be given any items of monetary or sentimental value (e.g. family heirloom)?
  • Would you like to set aside a donation to a charity or non-profit organization?
  • Name who you’d like to be the guardian of your children if they’re minors.
  • Name who you’d like to take care of your pets.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Draft my Will? 

The simple answer is that it is possible to draft your own will without a lawyer, but it is risky. There are numerous pitfalls that can occur when drafting your will without the guidance of an experienced wills and estates lawyer.

What to Do After You’ve Made a Will

Congratulations! You’ve begun the estate planning process and drafted yourself a Will – you’ve made a smart decision. Now that you have a Will, here are a few things to consider:

Where do I Store my Will? With the Wills & Estates Lawyer Who Drafted It (if possible).

Similar to other legal documents, your Will should be stored somewhere safe and secure so that it won’t get damaged (either by fire, flood etc.) or stolen. It’s also crucial that you leave clear instructions for your executor on how to find your Will. Often times, the lawyer who drafted your Last Will and Testament (and yes, you should absolutely never make a Will without a lawyer) can provide lifetime Will storage and all you have to do is tell your executor where your lawyer is located. Many people choose this route as it’s safe, simple, and more or less foolproof.

When Should I Update My Will?

The rule of thumb is simple: Update your Will anytime a major change happens in your life. Here are a few examples where updating your Will is a must:

  1. You have a change in relationship status (divorce, marriage, separation).
  2. One of your beneficiaries passes away and you do not have any alternate beneficiaries listed in your Will.
  3. You’ve purchased or sold major assets, which impacts how you would like to distribute your estate.
  4. You have children.
  5. Your children reach the age of majority (they become 18) – at this point or shortly thereafter, many people choose to include their adult children as executors or alternate executors.
  6. You move to a different province or country where the laws differ.
  7. Your relationship with anyone mentioned in your Will changes.

Even if you’re not going to update your Will, reviewing it at least once a year to ensure no changes are needed is imperative. It never hurts to re-read it.

How Do I Cancel (Revoke) My Will?

If you’ve just recently had your Will drafted, hopefully you won’t be cancelling it anytime soon. However, if you’ve had a change of heart or time has passed and you would like to revoke your will, you have a few options:

  1. The best option: Draft a new Will! Your new Will is going to contain a statement that revokes all previous wills, so any previous Wills you had will be cancelled. This is the best option because a new Will is made immediately, so you don’t run the risk of passing away without a Will (intestate).
  2. Getting Married (unless you wrote your will in contemplation of marriage, getting married will cancel your Will). However, in this case, you’ll want to make a new Will to account for your spouse.
  3. Destroying your Will. If you do this, make sure to write a new will as soon as possible so that there is no chance that you will pass away without a will and leave the laws of intestacy to dictate how your assets and estate will be handled – that’s never a good idea.

Simply put, being “will-fully” negligent by not having a will means your loved ones will have to go through a lengthy and expensive probate process, which may end in your estate being divided in a way that does not reflect your wishes. We recommend that you save yourself time and money and have a will drafted with an experienced wills and estates lawyer. Be sure to review your will from time to time to ensure that it is up to date and reflects your present life situation and wishes.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s wills and estate services.