A will is a legal document that leaves instructions about what the person making the will wants done with their estate and obligations after they die.
Your estate is made up of the property and possessions, also known as the assets, that you own at your death (some exceptions are joint ownership and those with a designated beneficiary). With a will, you can make sure the things you own go to the people you want to have them.
If you die without a will, there is no way to prove what your wishes were, and the law dictates how your estate will be divided. Someone can apply to the courts to be appointed to administer your estate, a process which takes considerable time and expense. If no one suitable applies and your estate is valuable enough, the Public Guardian and Trustee take responsibility, again at considerable expense.
In order to make a valid will, you must be 16 or over, mentally capable of managing your own affairs, and not be pressured or coerced.
You can make a will on your own, or have someone such as a lawyer or a notary public help you. Although not required, a professional can help you clarify your intentions and communicate them clearly, identify issues unique to you and your family, and work with you to design a comprehensive estate plan. For a will to be valid it must be in writing, dated, and signed on the last page by the will-maker. The will-maker must sign in the presence of two witnesses, and the witnesses must sign the will in the presence of the will-maker and one another.
An important consideration when creating a Will is deciding who will be your executor, which was the subject of an article dated August 29, 2022 (see way2go.ca for articles published to date). You must also decide to whom to give your things and, if applicable, who will look after your minor children if the other parent is not available.
Like cash, the only will that has authority is the original. Store this in a safe place known and accessible to your executor. For a small fee, Vital Statistics provides a service for recording the location of your original will. If you use this service, ensure you update it each time the location of your will changes.
It is generally advisable to review your will with your executor(s), alternate executor(s), and beneficiaries. If they have any questions, you are available to provide clarification. If there are parts of the will they disagree with, these can be addressed while you are still alive.
A will should be reviewed every few years, and each time a major life event occurs. Usually, a will is easily updated by incorporating amendments into the electronic copy, creating a new original document.
People’s Law School, whose mission is to provide free education and information to help people deal effectively with the legal problems of daily life, is a helpful source of information. This article relied heavily on their website, where you can find more details.
Summarized / written by Margaret Verschuur