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What to consider when writing a will in Canada

February 18, 2020

Writing

If you’re thinking about drawing up a will, you’re probably wondering how to get started. The good news is that writing a will is fairly straightforward – here’s what you need to know.  

The purpose of a will 

A Last Will and Testament, or “will” for short, gives you control over what happens to your estate once you pass away. It also allows you to appoint guardians for your children, decide how family businesses are distributed, and more. 

If you don’t leave a will, meaning you die “intestate,” you’re allowing others to decide what happens to your assets and who will take care of your children. The laws of intestacy vary between Provinces and Territories, which means months of confusion and uncertainty for your family. 

Every adult should have a will, and you should revise it whenever your family or financial circumstances change. 

Drafting a will in Canada: key steps

Once you’ve decided to write a Last Will and Testament, here are the key steps you should work through to ensure you’ve covered everything.

Executor(s)

Your executor is the person you appoint to carry out the terms of your will. In other words, it’s their responsibility to distribute your assets and tidy up your estate. It’s a good idea to appoint a co-executor, or an alternate executor, just in case your first executor is unable or unwilling to act. 

Assets and financial details 

Although you don’t list assets in your will, you should make a list of everything you own and what each item is worth. This makes it easier for the executor to enact your wishes. The list should include:

  • Your home
  • Any other assets you own
  • Bank accounts and savings accounts
  • Pensions and investments

Don’t forget to include key information, such as bank account numbers, mortgages, and funeral plan details, if applicable. 

Having all your financial information clearly set out will help you with tax planning and setting up trusts for your children. 

Beneficiaries

Decide who you want to benefit from your estate, such as your children, your grandchildren, and your spouse. Decide what will happen if:

  • You and your spouse die together in an accident.
  • Your child dies before you.
  • Other beneficiaries die before you.
  • You or your spouse have children from other relationships.
  • Your spouse remarries, and they have further children.

These may seem like a lot of questions, but it’s important to think of multiple “what-if” scenarios so your will covers everything. 

Children 

Appoint guardians to look after your children until they’re legal adults. If you don’t appoint guardians, the court will appoint one for you. You should also choose a trustee or trustees to safeguard your children’s inheritance until they reach a certain age. It’s fine for the same person to act as a trustee and a guardian. 

Estate claims 

Consider if there’s anyone who may feel like they’ve been unfairly excluded from your will, and ensure your instructions are clear, equivocal, and undeniable. 

Making your will  

Although it’s possible to write your own Last Will and Testament, it’s always a good idea to seek legal advice first. A lawyer (or Notary, if you’re in Quebec or BC) can help ensure that you don’t leave anything crucial out of your will and that you’ve covered every scenario. 

If you plan on writing your own will, then ensure that it’s signed and dated by you and two other adult witnesses. Be sure to also write “Last Will and Testament” so there’s no doubt regarding your intentions. 

Remember, writing a will gives your family much-needed clarity at a difficult time. Put your affairs in order and take a weight off your mind by writing a will today.

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