Question. I’ve seen a few commercials on television about wills, and I’m wondering if I should have my will completed? I’ve never had one, and never really felt the need for one. But recently, I’ve started thinking about it more and more. I’m in my 30s, and although my partner and I currently have no children, we are thinking about building a family together in the near future. Should I have a will?
Answer. Before we dig into some finer points, let’s first make sure we all have a basic understanding of wills and estates.
According to the Government of Canada, a will is a legal document that says how you want your estate to be divided once you die. Your estate includes what you own (called assets) and what you owe (called liabilities). An up-to-date will can help your estate representative deal with your estate when you die. Note that, when it comes to wills and estates, there is no uniform federal law in Canada. Rather, the provinces and territories set the laws for wills and estates.
Experts tell us that a will is something that very adult needs, regardless of age, health, or family situation. And yet, a recent Angus Reid Institute poll has found that more than half of Canadians (51%) say they have no will. Furthermore, only about one-third (35%) have one that is up to date.
In other words, more than half the country are currently set up to have no say in what happens to their assets when they die. Why?
Top 3 Excuses: “I don’t have a will because…”
1. I’m too young.
Wills aren’t just for old folks. On the contrary, a will is a key element of your overall financial plan that should be constructed when you are young, and updated regularly throughout your lifetime as required, and as your personal circumstances change.
2. I can’t afford it.
Many of us are under the impression that preparing a will is not only a difficult and burdensome process, but is very costly as well. Although it may have been a costly process years ago, there are many affordable options for preparing wills today. For example, LegalWills.ca (established in 2000, serving all provinces except Quebec) offers a last will and testament preparation service for only $39.95.
3. I’m waiting for the right time.
If you’re single, you’re probably thinking it makes sense to hold off until you get married. If you don’t have a house, you’re probably thinking it makes sense to hold off until you buy a house. If you don’t have kids yet, you’re probably thinking it makes more sense to hold off until the kids are born. Etc., etc., etc. For the most part, this is just avoidance behaviour. There’ll always be an excuse to wait for the “perfect time,” which, of course, never comes, because your life circumstances won’t ever stop changing.
Types of Wills
There are 3 main types of wills in Canada:
A formal will is a typed document that must be signed by you in the presence of at least two witnesses. The witnesses must not be beneficiaries of your will, or spouses of beneficiaries. A formal will is typically prepared by a lawyer, and can therefore be more expensive than other types of wills.
A notarial will is used only in Quebec. It is similar to a formal will, and is prepared by a notary, and must be signed before the notary and generally one other witness.
A holographic will is written entirely in your handwriting and signed by you. No witnesses are necessary, however, some experts advise against holographic wills as they can often be challenged in court.
What Happens if you don’t have a Will?
In Canada, you are not legally required to prepare a will. If you die without a will, you are said to have died “intestate.” When that happens, the government determines how your estate is settled. Note that some assets, such as life insurance policies and registered accounts such as an RRSPs and TFSAs, can have a named beneficiary, and therefore those assets pass directly to the beneficiary and are not governed by your will. However, for the most part, if you don’t have a will, the laws in your province or territory will determine how your estate is settled.
A will is not just for determining who gets what, after you’re gone. There are many great things you can do with your will, such as donating to a favourite charity or religious institution, supporting educational or research initiatives, setting up a special event in your memory, or simply making sure your most valuable personal belongings go to those who can properly appreciate and care for them.
More importantly, having a properly prepared will isn’t really about helping yourself. It’s about taking care of your family, friends, and loved ones. Because without a will, you could end up creating a lot of headaches, at a time of heartaches, for the ones you leave behind. Indeed, many families who have gotten along well for years have been subsequently ripped apart by the arguing and fighting that often ensues when there is no will in place.
If you want to speak with a professional advisor, or if you have any other questions about retirement and estate planning, or any of our services at ModernAdvisor, just contact us.