Creating & Updating Your Will to Protect Your Family
Creating a will isn’t typically high on our list of priorities.
That’s because not only is it mired in contemplating our own mortality, but the process can be complex.
Often we procrastinate, pushing it off as long as possible, until it’s buried beneath a million other “more pressing” tasks.
That’s when we risk forgetting about doing it entirely.
Wills are for anyone with something to pass on
Completing your will needs to be done eventually, and the truth is now is the best time to do it.
We recommend that anyone who holds some amount of wealth, or sentimental objects they plan to bequeath to someone, write their wills as soon as possible.
Once you’ve created a will, the hardest part is done. However, wills are living documents and require you to update them periodically. We recommend keeping them up-to-date with each major life change or every five years – whichever comes first.
To help you break the cycle of procrastination and start making some headway on this essential task, we’ll go over the different types of wills and offer insights on what you’ll need to gather to create or update your own.
An overview of wills
In principle, wills are fairly simple. You can get a pen and paper right now, write down that, in the event of your death, everything should go to your spouse (if you have one) and sign it. That’s a legitimate will that should hold up before a judge in a court of law.
However, things are rarely as simple as they seem at first glance.
Once you start diving into your entire estate, stipulating who inherits what and who will make sure your wishes are carried out and taxes are paid, it can get complicated.
For that reason, we always recommend working with a lawyer to make sure your will is not only legally binding, but comprehensive.
*A note on will kits
We do not recommend using a will kit to create your will. Your estate, local laws and specific needs should dictate what is included in your will, not a predetermined will kit, which can often miss key details unique to your situation.
The different aspects of a will
While all wills end up looking a little different, generally speaking, certain information is required in this legally binding document, including:
The name of the testator (the person writing the will), which can include nicknames, birth name and married name)
The date it was written
A statement revoking previous wills (if you have an old will)
A statement naming your executor
A list of your property and who will receive it
A residual clause naming a person or organization who will receive anything left over after all debts have been paid and gifts given
Your signature and the signature of two witnesses if it is not a holographic will
As long as you cover this information, you will have a functioning, effective will.
Now let’s dive a little deeper into the details.
What is a holographic will?
Though the name may make it sound like science fiction, a holographic will is quite simple.
It’s a will you write out by hand, then sign. Because it’s written and signed in your own handwriting, a holographic will does not require any witnesses. However, without witnesses, your executor may be required to prove it is your handwriting.
This potential friction is precisely why we recommend finding at least one witness to sign your holographic will.
Witness requirements for typed wills
To be valid, typed wills require two witness signatures (the same of which is true in a will kit).
However, not just anyone can sign your will. The law requires that witnesses not inherit anything from the will, so that they remain impartial. In fact, not even the witness’ spouse can receive a gift in the will.
Naming an executor
One of the most important aspects of any will is the executor. This is the person who will make sure everything you took the time to write out actually happens. This person needs to be of sound mind and should be very responsible.
Unlike a witness, you can name anyone you wish as an executor, including a family member who will inherit some of your property, a personal accountant or even a trust. In fact, you can even name more than one executor, which can be beneficial in case your original choice is, for some reason, unfit when the time comes to execute the will.
However, it’s imperative to be cautious when naming multiple primary executors because, if these individuals don’t see eye-to-eye, disagreements can cause a lot of friction that might require a judge to sort out. To make it easier for your executor, choose one that lives in the same province as you. There are often signatures required on different legal documents and having an executor that lives out of province or out of the country can make this task onerous.
Because it’s such a big responsibility, we recommend talking to the individual(s) beforehand to make sure they feel capable enough to be your executor.
Creating and updating your will
As mentioned above, we always recommend working closely with a legal professional when creating a will. Not only does this guarantee its validity, but if, for some reason, the will is invalidated, your lawyer’s liability insurance will cover any extra expenses incurred.
Creating a will is just the beginning. It will need to be regularly updated to accommodate your current life situation and account for any new assets.
When should I create a will?
You should create a will when you have wealth or belongings you have plans for beyond the end of your life.
Though sooner is always better, certain life changes, such as starting a family, accelerate the need for a proper will. A will ensures all assets go to your loved ones, and you can specify a guardian for any children who are still minors.
When should I update my will?
You should update your will every five years, or when a major life event happens.
Major life events can include:
Birth of a child
The death of a loved one
Major purchases (such as a new home or property)
While it’s important to include a clause invalidating previous wills in each will update, creating a new will usually automatically revokes a previous will. That’s why it’s critical to date your will. Aside from court challenges, the latest will is typically considered current and authoritative.
What happens if I don’t have a will?
If a person passes away without a will, they are said to have died ‘intestate’. That means there is no executor to distribute the estate, so, the government will step in to do it. This can create a lot of tension and often results in much more money going to the government than it would otherwise.