Using an Estate planning lawyer? Here’s some questions to ask…

Wondering whether our service is right for you? considering using an estate planning lawyer?

We know that 62 percent of Canadians don’t have a Will in place. A further 12 percent have a Will, but it’s out of date.

Even with that harrowing stat, the legal community still try to warn people against preparing their own Will. Claiming that you can only obtain a quality Last Will and Testament from an estate planning lawyer. Any approach to writing your own Will is going to result in pain for your family and loved ones.

In truth, there was some merit in this argument about 20 years ago when the only do-it-yourself Will writing options were a blank piece of paper, or a blank form Will kit. Both approaches are a disaster waiting to happen, and many estates went through protracted legal battles to settle an ambiguous instruction. Or worse, a Will was simply thrown out because it wasn’t signed correctly.

Thankfully in the years since came online in 2001, the online interactive Will writing services have come a long way. Much like tax preparation software that faced a similar backlash from tax preparing accountants, the use of online interactive Will writing services has grown year by year.

Will writing office

Online Will writing services have also improved to a point that for 99 percent of people, the final Will document is indistinguishable from a Will created by an estate planning lawyer. We know this because we use the exact same software used by any estate planning lawyer in Canada. We’ve just give you direct access to it.

The natural assumption for most is that people come to a service like ours because it is cheaper than an estate planning lawyer. This is of course true, but there are many other benefits that make a service like preferable over the services of an estate planning lawyer. The questions below will give some insight into these benefits.

How much does a Will cost? and Why?

The first question to ask any estate planning lawyer is how much they charge for a Will. You have to ask because it is almost impossible to find a price on a website. The most common answer is that “it varies”. Some law firms might tell you that a Will “starts at $500” without any clear indication as to what would increase a price from the opening offer.

It is intimidating talking to law offices. I phoned a few myself in researching this article and they are not very forthcoming with information.

The next question that needs to be asked of an estate planning lawyer is “why does the Will cost this much?”

The price is not determined by a sense of “value for money”, but calculated based on a lawyerly expectation of how much their time is worth.

We shudder at the idea that a popular law profession blog “Above the Law” run an annual contest for the most sumptuous law offices and have a special section on their website called “lawyerly lairs” a celebration of how opulent law firm offices can be. This one was a contender in last year’s competition.

estate planning lawyer

To be fair, many of the most recent celebrations of a decadent lifestyle are profiling crooked lawyers, so there is an argument to say that many of the multi-million dollar properties were not acquired through honest lawyering, but I think it gives an interesting glimpse into the profession. It certainly provides some insight into what interests the readers of this law blog.

Rich lawyers

Once you have received your quote from the estate planning lawyer, you then have to decide whether they are offering you value for money. The following questions may provide some insight into this question.

Can I update my Will whenever I want to?

Once you have established how much it costs to prepare your Will, it is important to understand the costs of updating your Will. In a recent survey we found that 12 percent of Canadians have a Will, but it is out of date. For Canadians over the age of 65, this rose to 21 percent.

The unfortunate consequence of writing your Will with an estate planning lawyer is that it can be out of date by the time you get home. You may not have changed your mind about the distribution of your estate, but supposing your alternate Executor is involved in an accident, or is taken ill. Or your chosen guardian has accepted a new job in Dubai. Or your sister announces her divorce.

Changes in the circumstances of anybody named in your Will may trigger a need to review and update your Will. It is important to know how much your estate planning lawyer will charge for this type of update.

We have many people come to us after being quoted $100 per amendment to a Will. Most recently an elderly woman was quote $400 to make 4 simple changes to her document. She came to us instead, knowing that she could create a brand new Will for $39.95 and then make changes whenever she needed to.

The real surprise for her is that the Will she created using our service was not a cheap substitute. It was word-for-word identical to the one prepared five years earlier by an estate planning lawyer for $600.

Are you an estate planning lawyer? (how many Wills do you write?)

In Canada we have something called the “unauthorized practice of law“. It’s a good law which prevents anybody from passing themselves off as a lawyer and handing out legal advice. It means that only licensed lawyers can provide legal advice.

However, what this rule doesn’t cover is a lawyer working in one area, offering legal advice in a completely different area. Under the current system, a human rights lawyer, or patent attorney, can write your Will. Even through they are not an estate planning lawyer. Many problems arise at probate because the lawyer who prepared the Will had no experience in Will writing.

Like this law firm who explain;

Recently, our firm was asked to revise a client’s financial Power of Attorney. To be thorough, attorney Russell Mobley asked to see the testator’s Will that had been prepared by another law firm. When reviewing the Will, Russell discovered that the drafter had omitted key language from the document which meant that approximately $10 million dollars in assets would pass to beneficiaries other than those whom the testator intended. In other words, unless the testator executed a new Will, a court likely would require the executor to distribute the property contrary to the testator’s true wishes.

A quick look at some cases in Ontario reveal;

A person who wanted to leave a $2,500 bequest, but the estate planning lawyer typed $25,000 and nobody noticed until after the testator died.

A variety of different situations here and here where they was a miscommunication or slip-up because there was international property involved or secondary Wills.

It is important to understand that a lawyer is not necessarily an estate planning lawyer. So ask.

Do you make house calls?

There is a common misconception that people use our service because we are affordable. This is true, but it is by no means the main attraction.

One key group drawn to our service is professional couples with young children. They understand the importance of a Will. Particularly the naming of guardians for their children. But there is no way that they can co-ordinate both partners visiting a lawyer’s office and covering childcare. It’s enough of an obstacle that “writing a Will” never makes it to the top of the To-Do list.

There are another important group who need Wills; seniors. Our study found that the age group most likely to have a Will in place that was not up-to-date was the over 65 category. Some people have mobility issues, made worse by the difficult Canadian winters.

It’s a fair question to ask if your estate planning lawyer will come to you to earn their business.

How complicated can I make my Will?

Our service attracts many people because they need privacy and discretion. People often ask how many specific gifts they can include in their Will, and the answer from us is “there is no limit”. If you wish you can list every important item that you own, and name a separate beneficiary for each item. You would also include a “residual clause” for everything else, but you are free to leave your signed Gretzky jersey to your nephew, your family photo album to your niece, $1,000 to your local cat shelter and your piano to your local scout group.

You don’t have to write your Will in one sitting. You can take up to a year to prepare your Will to get it exactly the way you want it. You can then update it as many times as you wish throughout that year. Every time you make an update, print it and sign it in the presence of two witnesses.

It’s the type of flexibility that you don’t get with an estate planning lawyer.

How will you know when I die?

I know my father wrote his Will with a lawyer, but we can’t find the Will and don’t know which law firm he used. What can we do?

We receive this phone call every week. Firstly, you have to hope that the law firm still exists. Just recently the firm of Heenan Blaikie LLP, with 500 lawyers and four decades of experience dissolved. It happens all the time.

If the lawyer is still practicing, there is little else to do other than start phoning law firms in the city in which this person was living. Good luck if they lived in Toronto, the website claims to have 25,000 lawyers in their directory.

But if nobody can find your Will, then you effectively do not have one. You will be deemed to have died “intestate” (without a Will) and your estate will be distributed according to the Provincial laws.

Unless your estate planning lawyer is a good friend, there is a significant chance that they will not know that you are no longer around. This means that your loved ones will probably not be able to locate your Will.

Of course, when you use a service like the one at this is all taken care of by our MyMessages service. We ensure that the right people receive the right information exactly when they need it.

Do you have anything to help me document my assets? (how do I get that info to the right person at the right time?)

If you write your Will with an estate planning lawyer, you will probably walk out of the office with a five page document and little else. Your lawyer will probably not help you with the most critical step in the estate planning process; the documenting of your assets.

After you have passed away, your Executor will be given the authority to act as you estate administrator. They will then have the daunting task of gathering up your assets. Your Will is going to say something like “I leave the remainder of my estate to two children in equal shares”.

How is your Executor going to track down your assets? How will your Executor know when they have completed this exercise? How can you be sure that your Executor will find all of your assets? The Bank of Canada regularly update the “unclaimed balances” website.

At the end of December 2015, approximately 1.7 million unclaimed balances, worth some $626 million, were on the Bank’s books.

Most of these assets are bank accounts unclaimed by an estate executor. The owner died, and nobody knew the account existed.

It is worth asking your estate planning lawyer how they can help you ensure that none of your assets go undiscovered. It isn’t as simple as writing everything down because these assets change over time.

At we’ve thought of this, and offer MyLifeLocker. An online tool that not only allows you to keep your list of asset up-to-date over time, but you can also assign “keyholders” who can view the document at the appropriate time (and not before).

Executor assistance

You can print the book and store it with your Will, or just maintain the online version that can you can update from anywhere in the World at any time.

Can I store other important information with my Will?

Your Will is one part of your estate plan. As well as your financial Power of Attorney and your Living Will (Advance Directives and Healthcare Power of Attorney). But there is much more that you may need to capture and communicate. You should ask your estate planning attorney how to include for example, your funeral wishes as part of your estate plan. At we provide a separate MyFuneral service.

You may have heard of an”Ethical Will“. It is not a legal document but it is an important part of your legacy.

The generic purpose of the ethical will is to pass on wisdom and love to future generations. Writing can include family history and cultural and spiritual values; blessings and expressions of love for, pride in, hopes and dreams for children and grandchildren; life-lessons and wisdom of life experience; requests for forgiveness for regretted actions; the rationale for philanthropic and personal financial decisions; stories about the meaningful “stuff” for heirs to receive

At we have a free MyMessages service that supports the creation of an ethical Will. This service allows you to send different messages to different people.

Finally, you may have other assets that must pass to beneficiaries, but these assets don’t belong in your Will. You might have an important spreadsheet, photo, audio file, video, scan of a recipe, master password. These things have to get to the right people when they need them and not before. You could ask your estate planning lawyer if they have any tools to support this.

Of course, at we have a solution! Our MyVault service allows you to upload any digital asset and grant access to the files to your Executor at the appropriate time (and not before).

Online service or estate planning lawyer?

It makes us smile when an estate planning lawyer denigrates our service. We have found that in general the legal profession have not adopted many modern tools to help their clients create a complete estate plan. In fact, they have not updated their practices much in decades. The only modern advances for the estate planning profession make their own tasks easier; like the wider use of estate planning software. One of the most widely used estate planning products, used by lawyers promises to “increase billable time and eliminate hours of work”. This image is cut directly from their brochure.

estate planning software

There is nothing here that helps the client.

So before hiring an estate planning lawyer, make sure that you are getting value for your dollar.

Guardian for your children – How to name a guardian in your Will.

How to Choose a Guardian for Your Children

One of the most important things which you need to consider when you are making your Will is how to choose a guardian. They will take care of your minor children in the event of your death. This really isn’t something that anyone ever wants to think about, but it is one of the most important decisions that you need to make. No one likes to think of their own mortality. However, making a Will and appointing a guardian is one of the most caring things that you can do for your minor children.

Guardian for children

If you do not choose a guardian for your children and both parents die, the court will have to appoint one. This will usually be a willing volunteer. However, you really don’t want to leave something so incredibly important to chance. A judge can appoint whoever they want to. This person could be your worst nightmare, but a judge may have of way of knowing that if you haven’t made your wishes clear. Continue reading

The Free Will Kit – why they are not such a great idea

There are two types of people who comment on our pricing, those who have previously used a lawyer, and those who are considering the use of a free Will kit.

The first group usually say;

“Wow, I was quoted $800 to write my Will, and your service is less than $40. How can your service possibly be any good?”

the second group say;

“$40 for a Last Will and Testament? Why on earth would I pay that if I can pay nothing with a free Will kit?”

In this article we are going to address the issue raised by the second group.

Free Will Kit

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The Affidavit of Execution and signing your Will. What makes a Will legal?

One of the most common misconceptions associated with writing your own Will is around the signing process. We answer this question ten times a day, so I thought I would provide some explanation. Many of you may have heard of an Affidavit of Execution, but you may be unsure of what it is, and what role it plays in authenticating your Will.

Affidavit of Execution

Writing your own Will – is it legal?

There are generally speaking three approaches to writing your Will.

1. Working with an estate planning lawyer or Will writer.

In some Canadian provinces (particularly BC and Québec) Notary Publics also have the authority to prepare a Will for you. Writing your Will with a lawyer or notary gives you a good chance of getting a quality Last Will and Testament (but not a guarantee!!). The downside of course is that it is often expensive, and certainly inconvenient to arrange an appointment with a lawyer. Even if you managed to write your Will, you probably wouldn’t make the time to update it to reflect any changes in your circumstances. The time and money barriers are so significant, that in a recent survey we found that 62 percent of Canadians didn’t have a Will. Of those that did, 12 percent were out of date. Continue reading

Your Executor – the most important appointment of your life

A key question that many people struggle with is: Who will be your executor in your Last Will and Testament?

Okay, who or what exactly is your Executor?

First of all, it is important to know the definition of an executor and what role they play in your last will and testament.

It is your executor’s responsibility to handle your last wishes. The executor is in charge of handling the estate and distributing property and possessions according to your instructions. It is also their duty to settle debts; a required step before your executor can distribute inheritances.

Your Executor

We provide a complete list of Executor responsibilities as part of our services at

Securing your Estate

Your executor must keep your assets safe. You may have heard of terrible episodes of a person dying and the family descending on the estate. It can become a free-for-all where things just start disappearing. “He always told me that I could have this” says the favourite niece as she walks out of the door with the Andy Warhol pencil sketch. Continue reading

Number of Canadians without Wills significantly under-reported

There appears to be divided opinion on the importance of Wills. There are a group who believe that a Will is a document to be written on one’s deathbed, as a final statement to explain who will receive the family heirlooms. Fortunately, most of us are wiser, and understand that a Will is something that everybody needs, no matter how old, or how wealthy. A Will is a vital part of your financial plan that is written when you are young, and updated throughout your lifetime.

“Fortunately I don’t need a Will yet”

A caller contacting on behalf of their mother

But statistics show that what we know about Wills, and what we actually do about Wills are two very different things. I think most of us were shocked to hear that Prince didn’t have a Will, while silently thinking that it’s something that we really need to get to ourselves.

Recent surveys have been quite consistent in putting the number of Canadians without a Will at just over half. A 2013 CIBC survey put the number at “about half”, while a 2012 LawPRO survey claimed that 56% of Canadians did not have a Will in place. Most recently, in 2014 the BC Notaries reported a number of 55% of British Columbians without a Will.

At we were interested in not only the number of people without a Will, but also the number of people with out-of-date Wills. This came from a social discussion on Wills that went something like this;

Dave: I do have a Will, but I wrote it a while ago.
Me: you think it may need to be updated?
Dave: Well, I wrote it just after we got married, but before we had the children.
Me: Are you kidding me? your girls are now 24 and 21 years old !! you don’t have a Will. Continue reading

Digital assets in your Last Will and Testament – you need a plan.

As we spend more time online, our social, sentimental, and financial assets have begun to migrate online as well. Collectively, we have come to call these items, your digital assets.

Unfortunately, people all too frequently neglect the digital component of estate planning. You probably haven’t considered creating a plan for your Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts. Maybe you have recently experienced the loss of a friend and seen first hand the mis-management of online accounts for people who are no longer alive, I know I have. Sadly, three of my ex-colleagues have died, and every year, LinkedIn still prompts me to congratulate them on their work anniversary.

But there is much more to digital assets than your social accounts. Some of these assets simply need to be managed, some need named beneficiaries, and some have real monetary value and should be included as part of your estate.

Digital assets

Your Digital Assets – what are they?

You can divide the three most common forms of digital assets into three categories: social, sentimental, and financial digital assets. You may have a plan for your social assets, but having a comprehensive plan for your sentimental and financial assets is probably more important. Continue reading

The Canadian Will Kit – and the evolution of Will services

Many of us remember the TV ads for the Canadian Will Kit. It later became the Complete Canadian estate planning kit. It’s been over a decade since those ads ran on TV and Radio, and to this day, we still receive calls from people looking for one.

Unfortunately, these kits became synonymous with “writing your own Will”. The kits were bad, the Wills that they created caused many problems, and so people still think that writing your own Will is a bad idea.

Canadian Will Kit

The common criticisms of “boilerplate” Wills like the Canadian Will Kit, and “one-size fits all” kits are still trotted out by lawyers advising people against writing their own Wills. But these criticisms are woefully out of date, and simply no longer apply to online interactive services like the one at Continue reading

Six consequences of dying intestate in Canada

Dying intestate means that you have died without a Will.

dying intestate

I’m not sure that anybody plans to die without a Will. After all, most people don’t plan to die. But it happens. In fact, the vast majority of Canadian adults do not have a Will in place, and most of these people think that they will probably have plenty of opportunities to write one at some time in the future.

Dying intestate…who does that?

Amy Winehouse, Barry White, Jimi Hendrix, Sonny Bono and Bob Marley would make a terrific band. However, what brings them together in this article is that they all suffered the ignominy of dying intestate.

But you don’t have to be young with a rock and roll lifestyle to end up dying without a Will. Roman Blum was 97 years old with an estate valued at $40M, he died without a Will and and incredibly with no heirs. His entire fortune in this case, was destined for the government coffers. Continue reading

Wills for Blended families and stepfamilies

Wills for Blended families

First a definition;

stepfamily or blended family is a family where at least one parent has children, from a previous relationship, that are not genetically related to the other parent. Either one or both parents may have children from a previous relationship. Children from a stepfamily may live with one biological parent, or they may live with each biological parent for a period of time.

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Understanding Advance Directives – Advance Care Terminology

At we offer a complete set of estate planning services which include the Last Will and Testament, the financial Power of Attorney, and what we have been calling the “Living Will”. Our Living Will service typically includes a Healthcare Power of Attorney, that allows you to appoint a person to make medical decisions on your behalf (a Healthcare Proxy). And also a Healthcare Directive that allows you to express the type of healthcare you wish to receive if you were ever unable to speak for yourself. We collectively call all of these documents your “Advance Directives”.

We received an email from Pashta MaryMoon the Director of CINDEA – Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives. She expressed concern that we were using the term “Living Will” when it is not a widely used term in Canada and has been borrowed from the US.

After discussions we felt that it would be a great opportunity for Pashta to share with our community the correct use of terminology for Advance Care. The rest of this article is a guest post from Pashta MaryMoon from CINDEA.

Advance Directives Continue reading

Before you make a Will – some definitions for non-lawyers

Writing your Will can be a very simple process, but because it is only done a few times in your life, it can be intimidating. It can seem daunting because there are so many unfamiliar terms used in the estate planning world. Expressions that are second nature to the legal community, but are not in everyday use for the rest of us.

Just because the terms are unfamiliar, they are not complicated concepts. In this article we will explain a few of the words that you will need to know before you make a Will. We hope that we can demystified the process a little.

Make a Will


The term intestate is typical of much of the legal language in that it is derived from Latin, and in today’s World it means that you have died without a Will. Continue reading


Customer question of the day: How to Register a Will

Register a WillWe get this question a lot. “Once I have prepared my Last Will and Testament, and signed it in the presence of two witnesses, what do I do with it to make it legal? How do I register a Will?”

When do you register a Will?

In Canada, there is no way to register a Will until after you have died, and at this time, the Will is registered with the probate courts. In some Provinces, like British Columbia, you are able to register the location of your Will for a fee, but in our opinion, there is really little point in doing this.

Continue reading


Customer question of the day – updating a Will

Hello, I am trying to seek additional information regarding updating a Will . My question is , every time I update or change my will, do I need to go after the witness every time to re sign? How do I go about changing, updating without having to get them re signed. Thanks.

There is no way of updating a Will without having witnesses sign the update. There are only three ways to update your Will;

Updating a Will Continue reading

Why I haven’t written my legal Will – a confession

A month ago I was at a dinner party. I met a couple who had young children and the conversation naturally led to how we make a living. I explained that I was one of the founders of, the online convenient affordable service for preparing one’s legal Will. The couple were thrilled, they had two young children, they knew that they needed to prepare their legal Will, but hadn’t got around to it. It was on their list of things to do, but as with all tasks with no real deadline, it never seem to make it to the top of their list.

They loved the idea of just going online one evening, stepping through the service, compiling their document, and then printing, signing in front of witnesses and creating their legal Will. So excited were they, that I gave them my business card with a discount code.

One month later, they still haven’t written their legal Will.

They still haven’t named an Executor for their estate, guardians for their children, made any charitable bequests, set up trusts for their children, created a distribution plan for their estate.

Legal Will

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Challenging a Will: What are the grounds for contesting a Will in Canada?

I was told that if I don’t create a Will through a lawyer, it can be contested. Is that true?

This is one of the most common misconceptions we hear related to preparing one’s own Will. If you prepare a Will through a lawyer’s office for $600 it won’t be challenged, but it you prepare a Will yourself, or through a service like it is bound to be contested. The reality is that any Will can be contested, but challenging a Will can only be successful under one of eight conditions.

challenging a Will

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The Living Will: where does it fit in your estate plan?

Everybody needs a Last Will and Testament, but does everybody need a Living Will? We are asked this question a lot, and the answer is not always clear. Everybody should prepare a Living Will, but not every Living Will is going to be used. Most people will never find themselves in a situation where they need a Living Will, but if you are ever in that situation, it is a vital document, but by then it is too late.

Living Will

According to a 2014 Harris/Decima poll, although nearly all Canadians (96%) believe it is important to have a conversation Continue reading

Planned Giving: the state of charitable bequests in Canada

“A note on Privacy: the protection and security of the documents created on our web site are of critical importance. In particular, we cannot access any information contained in a specific Will, nor can we read a person’s Will. However, we are able to access aggregated data from an encrypted database folder that summarizes the number of times particular choices have been made within our service. We cannot connect this information to individual accounts. It is this data that has been mined to provide the information in this post”

At we help tens of thousands of Canadians create their Last Will and Testament, probably more than any other organization in Canada. Last year, we started to educate ourselves on the state of “planned giving”, that is, leaving something to charity in your Will. According to the most recent Statistics Canada report, both the amount donated to charities by taxfilers and the number of people reporting charitable donations fell from 2011 to 2012. Donations reported by taxfilers declined 1.9% to $8.3 billion in 2012, while the number of people reporting charitable donations on their 2012 income tax return decreased by 1.4% to 5.6 million. Around 23 percent of all tax filers include a charitable bequest in their tax declarations for any given year.

Although charitable giving may be on the decline, we were interested in the level of “planned giving” that is, the Continue reading

Lawyers and their egregious charges

CBC’s Marketplace recently featured a special – trying to find the most shocking fees charged by lawyers in Canada.

Rich lawyers

The banks and airlines featured prevalently in the discussion, but so did lawyers. People seemed to be incensed by the nickel-and-diming billing practices and when it came to voting for the 5 most egregious fees, one particular lawyer was included.

One of the most ridiculous submissions takes nickel-and-diming to a new level. One man complained of being charged precise amounts for every office supply his lawyer used.

“[I was] charged separately for staples ($0.07 each) and paperclips ($0.12 each) on my legal bill for doing up a will.”

It’s important to read this carefully. The lawyer wasn’t charging for the staples and paperclips in the Will, no, they were charging for the staples and paperclips used on the bill that was prepared for creating the Will !!

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Ten myths about a Canadian Last Will and Testament

Having watched families fight over the estate and end up not speaking to each other for the rest of their lives, I can tell you first hand that leaving this world without making a plan for what’s in your estate is one of the worst thing you could do for your loved ones.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the CBC led their business section with an article on writing a Canadian Last Will and Testament and suggested that you should discuss with your children exactly how you were planning to divide your estate.

Canadian Last Will and Testament

There were some great comments on the article from people who were living the nightmare of administering an estate, some estates had a Will involved and some didn’t. Problems arose with children fighting over particular bequests, Executors were not following the legal procedures, aged parents were being forced to change their Wills in the advanced years. What struck me though was the level of misunderstanding of estate planning law from the general public. In a total of 200 comments, I have picked out 10 terrible misconceptions that people have taken the time to submit in response to the article. The lesson here is do not take legal advice from a comment forum. Continue reading