You’ve decided to make up your last will and testament, but are unsure how or where to start. To help make things a little less complicated, we’ve answered some FAQs concerning wills and estate planning to simplify the process of organizing your affairs.

How do I make a will? 

The exact steps you must follow may vary depending on how you choose to make your will. This process varies by the province that you live in. However, below are the basic steps of creating your will.

1. Decide the type of will you’d like to make

Wills are not one size fits all, and neither are the many ways you can make them. The most common ways to make a will in Canada include:

  • Will kits
  • Holograph (Handwritten) Wills: Signed by the testator without witnesses.
  • Online Will platforms
  • Formal Wills: Lawyer-drafted wills are typed and signed before witnesses, and
  • Notarial Wills: Common in Quebec, these are drawn up by a notary.

2. Choose your executor

An executor is a trusted individual that you appoint to execute the wishes outlined in your will. If you don’t, the courts will choose someone to act as your estate administrator. In this case, they may not be someone you want to take on this important responsibility after you’ve passed.

3. Select your beneficiaries and any specific gifts you’d like to leave them

Your beneficiaries are any individuals you assign in your will to receive your assets after you pass away. Similar to appointing an executor, choose your beneficiaries and how you want your assets distributed.

Interestingly, in Ontario, a spouse is generally entitled to the first $200,000 of assets before it is divided among any remaining heirs. Any assets above and beyond that are divided between spouse and heirs.

4. Designate a guardian for any dependent children and any pets

A guardian is a person who assumes legal, moral, and financial responsibility for your children and pets if you and your spouse pass away.

5. List any funeral and burial wishes

You can outline any funeral wishes you have, such as traditional burial or cremation. This will help your loved ones have some peace of mind when putting you to rest.

6. Print your will and get it properly signed and witnessed

You must sign your will in wet ink along with two witnesses who must also sign your will.

7. Store your will in a safe spot

Your will and other important documents related to your estate should be stored in a safe and accessible location. This is where they can be retrieved by a trusted family member or loved one after your passing.

What types of situations warrant the services of a lawyer?

Generally, lawyers are recommended for people with complicated personal scenarios:

  • Having dual citizenship
  • Needing to plan for taxation
  • Complicated family situations; for example, having children with different partners. People need to define what a ‘child’ is and who gets what; or people deciding to take a child out of a will, which might be challenged in court.

If you have young children in Ontario, you’ll need to think about setting up a trust and decide when they would receive a portion, or all of their inheritance, as they cannot inherit property if they’re under the age of 18. 

With the DIY route, what are some important things to consider? 

If you’ve decided to use a will kit or online will service, be weary of those that are completely free. Experts recommend that you look for an established company with good reviews from individuals who have used the will and had it go through the probate process.

With kits, it’s important to look for ones that have a lot of detailed explanations on how to properly sign the will. You should make sure you carefully read the instructions because your witnesses can’t be beneficiaries, spouses of the beneficiaries, or the children of beneficiaries.

Do I need to name a guardian for my minor children?

If you have minor children, naming a guardian when figuring out your will and estate planning is one of the most crucial decisions you will make:

  • Consider your children’s needs: Think about who will provide the most loving and stable environment for your children.
  • Discuss with potential guardians: Talk with potential guardians to ensure they are willing and able to assume this responsibility.
  • Consider financial factors: Assess whether the potential guardian has the financial means to care for your children or if arrangements need to be made to assist them financially.
  • Include specific instructions: If you have specific wishes for your children’s upbringing, including any educational or religious considerations, outline them in your will.

Wills and estate planning: How do I revoke previous wills?

There are many questions concerning wills and estate planning, and also how to revoke them when they have been updated. Here is how to prevent confusion:

  • Include Revocation Clause: New wills typically include a clause that revokes all previous versions.
  • Destroy old copies: Physically destroying old copies helps ensure that there’s no confusion about your current wishes.
  • Notify relevant parties: Inform your executor and anyone else who has a copy of the old will that a new one has been created.

Revoking old wills clearly and effectively ensures that only your most recent wishes are carried out.

Wills and estate planning: How can I minimize estate taxes?

Some of the most important questions concerning wills and estate planning are surrounding taxes. Minimizing estate taxes requires careful planning:

  • Utilize tax-free gifts: Gifting assets while alive may reduce estate taxes.
  • Consider trusts: Establishing specific trusts can provide more control over asset distribution and potential tax benefits.
  • Understand probate fees: Different provinces have varying fees for processing wills; understanding these can guide estate planning and the probate process.
  • Seek professional advice: Tax laws are complex, and professional advice can help identify opportunities to minimize estate taxes.

Taking steps to minimize estate taxes ensures more of your estate goes to your chosen beneficiaries rather than to taxes and fees.

Wills and estate planning: When should I review and update my will?

Regular reviews ensure your will reflects your current situation and that it continues to comply with current laws:

  • After major life events: Marriage, divorce, birth of a child, or the death of a beneficiary are common triggers for a review.
  • Changes in assets or debts: Significant changes in financial circumstances should prompt a re-evaluation.
  • Changes in laws: Legal changes might affect the validity or effectiveness of your will.
  • Regular intervals: Even without significant changes, reviewing your will every few years is a good practice.

Wills and estate planning: What if I own a business?

Business succession planning can be complex:

  • Consider your business structure: Different business structures may require different estate planning strategies.
  • Identify successors: Decide who will take over or manage your business interests.
  • Create a succession plan: A detailed business succession plan can guide the transition and minimize disruption.
  • Consult professionals: Business and legal professionals can provide guidance tailored to your business and industry.

What happens to my digital assets when I pass away?

Digital assets, such as online accounts, cryptocurrencies, and digital files, require special consideration in estate planning to ensure they don’t become lost or misused:

  • List your digital assets: Include everything from social media accounts to digital currencies, subscriptions, and personal files.
  • Assign access: Consider providing secure ways for your executor or beneficiaries to access these assets, such as a digital vault or password manager.
  • Understand terms of service: Some platforms may have specific rules regarding account transfer or termination upon death.
  • Provide clear instructions: Outline what you want to happen with each digital asset, whether it’s deletion, transfer, or memorialization.

Wills and estate planning: Where should I store my last will?

The safe storage of your will is vital:

  • Avoid safety deposit boxes: If the will is in your name only, it might not be accessible immediately after your death.
  • Consider a lawyer’s office: Many people keep their wills with their lawyers.
  • Inform executors: Make sure your executor knows where to find the will.
  • Avoid damages: Store it in a place safe from potential damage, like fire or water.

How much does it cost to make a will in Canada?

The cost to make a will in Canada varies depending on how you make your will. A simple will can cost between $0 to $400, but a more complex estate may require a lawyer who might run the cost up to $1,000 or more. Will kits are relatively low-cost options and can be found for as little as $50. However, they are generally a one-size-fits-all approach that may not fit your unique life situation. With an online will platform like Willful, you can make a legal will for as little as $99.

Wills and estate planning: Is a will legal without a lawyer in Canada?

You do not need a lawyer to make a legally valid will in Canada, but you may benefit from legal advice if you have a complex estate or wish to include custom clauses in your will.

Wills and estate planning: Final thoughts

Consulting with an expert when drafting your will is as important. Remember to also consult your isure representatives whenever you experience any big life changes. Why? To ensure that your insurance coverage meets your current needs!

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