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.
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 But these criticisms are woefully out of date, and simply no longer apply to online Will services like the one at LegalWills.ca.
I’ve put together a list of the most common criticisms of the Canadian Will Kit, which are now inaccurately being applied to online services like LegalWills.ca.
Do-it-yourself Will services do not take into account Provincial differences
This is of course, nonsense. The first question you are asked when signing onto our service is your location. Just like tax preparation software, we prepare documents specific to your Province. It is true that there used to be just one Canadian Legal Will Kit for the whole of Canada, which then became the Canadian Estate Planning Kit. I am not sure quite how this worked because Power of Attorney documents and the associated laws are very different from Province to Province. LegalWills.ca creates completely different documents for each Canadian Province.
DIY Will services aren’t kept up to date with new laws
This was a very valid criticism for the old Canadian Will Kit. Even today, if you go onto Amazon.ca you can find some doozies like this one from 1991. As a special bonus, even though this is listed on the Canadian Amazon website, the Will kit is for the US and so probably wouldn’t create a valid Canadian Will for you.
In Canada, BC had a major update to estate planning laws in March 2014, which included changing the minimum age of a Will maker from 19 to 16, and changing the law that revoked a Will on marriage (In BC your Will is no longer cancelled if you get married).
Alberta made similar changes in February 2012
Of course, every time there is a law change (like the BC Representation Agreement law updates in 2011), our service is updated. This particular law change required a complete overhaul of our Power of Attorney services.
Most commonly, a law requires us to update our help text, but it sometimes requires fundamental changes to the design of the service. Like the same-sex marriage legislation in 2005. It’s fair to say that any Canadian Will Kit published prior to 2014 would probably have out-of-date information.
Online services can only be used for the most simple of situations
Again, this is an out-dated criticism of the paper based Canadian Will Kit, but the online interactive software can actually get quite sophisticated. You can certainly name guardians for children, set up trusts for minors, and we have also recently introduced support for lifetime trusts and blended families.
If your spouse is not the parent of your children, a blank-form Canadian Will kit is trouble. You can leave everything to your spouse, but then it will become part of their estate. They are free to distribute their estate however they wish, meaning that your children may never see any inheritance.
Using an online interactive service like ours, you can create a life interest in a home, or even a lifetime trust. Your spouse can live off the proceeds of the trust, but when they die, the assets will go to your children.
We even handle a situation where you hold assets in multiple countries. If you have a property in the US for example, we allow you to create a Will for your Canadian assets, and a complementary Expat Will for your US assets. The two Wills would then work together to cover your entire estate.
There are of course, still situations where legal advice is recommended. For example, if you have a child with special needs, or if you are planning to disinherit family members.
There are also techniques for reducing tax burdens, so there is always room in your estate plan for a financial advisor, but these techniques are generally not a part of your Will.
For the vast majority of people, a Will created using the service at LegalWills.ca would look word-for-word identical to a Will prepared by a lawyer in a law office.
The Canadian Will kit does not check for errors
This is a good criticism for the old form-based Canadian Will Kit. You could complete the kit, put it away and an error would only become apparent at the time of probating the Will. For example, one of the most common errors in form-based kits is an attempt to list everything you own and forgetting to include a “residuary clause”.
There is a misconception in Will writing that you have to list everything you own, and say who will receive what. The problem with this strategy (other than the inevitability that you will forget something) is that your Will is likely to not come into effect until some time in the distant future. In the meantime, your assets will come and go. You certainly don’t want to have to update your Will every time you buy or sell something.
The distribution of assets is more typically made up of specific bequests, for example, $1,000 to the Toronto Humane Society, with the “residue of the estate” going to your spouse, or divided equally between your children. Whatever in your estate when your Executor administers the Will is what will be passed onto your beneficiaries.
There are of course other errors, for example, forgetting a child, or not creating an alternate plan in case your first choice distribution plan cannot happen.
None of these errors are possible in an interactive online service like ours.
There are very strict signing requirements that can invalidate a Will.
This is one of the oldest scaremongering tactics that never seems to go away. It is true that if you sign your document incorrectly, you will not create a legal Last Will and Testament. The reality though is that the law is not actually very difficult to understand.
In every Canadian Province, you must sign your Will in the presence of two witnesses (Québec is a little different, but our service doesn’t cover Québec law). The three of you gather together in a room, your witnesses should watch you sign, and then they each sign the document. We also recommend that all three of you initial each page (to guard against pages being removed and inserted).
But who can be a witness to the signing of a Will? Well, it doesn’t have to be a lawyer, a judge, a doctor or am officer in the RCMP. It can be any two adults who are mentally capable and have nothing to gain from the contents of the Will. So beneficiaries and the spouse of a beneficiary would be disqualified from serving as witnesses.
You can get your friends, neighbours or co-workers to serve as witnesses to the signing of your Will. They don’t even have to read it, they are just watching you sign and signing to say that they saw you sign. Once this happens, you have a legal Last Will and Testament.
The money you save is nothing compared to the additional costs you will incur after you have died.
There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. There are as many challenged estates for Wills written by lawyers as there are for Wills written by a service like LegalWills.ca. The situation that most often results in expensive legal battles is the estate with no Will (let’s all watch to see what happens to Prince’s estate).
It may have been true for the Canadian Will Kit and we do not have statistics either way to support the claim. But as far as we are aware, in over 100,000 Wills created using the service at LegalWills.ca, only one resulted in a court case and this was when somebody fraudulently used our service to write a Will for somebody else. We offered evidence in this case, and they were successfully prosecuted.
So how do you know if the Will service that you use, will give you a valid Last Will and Testament? Well, at LegalWills.ca we’ve been doing this for a very long time; 16 years now. We’ve helped in excess of 100,000 Canadians prepare their Will, and over that time many of our Wills have gone through the probate process. Not once, ever, have we received feedback from a loved one saying that our Will did not work for them. But we have received feedback like this
“I used your service to write a Will for my dear wife Christine who passed away this year. The Will was easy to fill out and very straightforward. I never had one problem arise because of the Will. You folks really don’t have any idea what a comfort it was to have Chris sign your will before she passed. Things were quite simple really, but any doubt was dispelled when the Will was shown. You can’t put a price on that kind of peace of mind. Again, thank you. My Will is safely done now too.”
Surrey, British Columbia
Based on our experience, the claim that writing a Will yourself will result in additional costs after you have died is demonstrably false.
If the Canadian Will kit is no good, should I go to a lawyer?
Not only is our service vastly different to the old style blank form Canadian Will Kit, but it actually offers several advantages over going to a lawyer;
It is convenient
Most Canadians don’t have a Will. Many of these have decided that they don’t need one, but most people know that they need one, they just haven’t got around to preparing their Will yet. It is a matter of inconvenience. That is why desperate people turn to things like Canadian Will Kit in Staples.
A key demographic group who absolutely must write their Wills is new parents. Your Will gives you a change to name guardians for children and also set up trusts for minor beneficiaries. However, making an appointment and taking the family to a lawyer’s office is difficult for busy professionals. There have been some high profile cases of Wills not being updated after the birth or death of a child, for example, Anna Nicole Smith and Michael Crichton.
Using a service like the one at LegalWills.ca you can create your Will after putting the kids to bed, this evening from your iPad, sitting on the sofa with a cup of cocoa in your hand.
You can update it easily
One of the most important values of our service is the ability to return to the website at any time, login, make a change to your information and create a brand new Will. The process can take just a few minutes, and can be done from anywhere in the World.
Also, I travel frequently, and one of the places I spend time in is India, so I need to be able to access my account from India.
One of the key reasons that people don’t write their Will is that they want to do it only once. The process of writing a Will with a lawyer is expensive and inconvenient, and certainly not something that you want to be doing on a regular basis.
The unfortunate reality is that if you prepare a Will with a lawyer, it can be out of date by the time you get home. It isn’t just a change in your own circumstances that would necessitate an update to your Will, but anybody named in your Will.
If your chosen guardian is taken gravely ill, or your Executor has been charged with criminal activity, or one of your beneficiaries falls out of favour, you may want to update your Will. If your daughter announces that she is divorcing, or expecting another child, this may have implications for your Will.
It is a distinct possibility that a charity could touch your life to an extent that you would want to recognize their efforts in your Will.
I have my Will written……mind you, it was 18 years ago, before we had the three children
Having an out-of-date Will, is often worse than having no Will at all.
It is affordable
The Will service at LegalWills.ca costs $39.95 and this includes the ability to make unlimited updates to your Will for a year. We also offer affordable options to maintain an account so that you make updates beyond the one year. For example, have ten years of unlimited updates to all of your documents for $34.95.
People come to us after receiving a quote from a lawyer for a “simple Will”. We commonly hear the number $800 but have heard as high as $1,400. This is outrageous, and disheartening for people who then resign themselves to not having a Will in place. There is absolutely no reason for a simple Will to cost this much money. Even if you had $1,400 to spend, there are probably other things that you would rather spend the money on, and there is no reason to be ripped off.
We also took a phone call from an elderly lady who wanted to make three changes to her Will. She asked the lawyer who wrote her Will to make the changes, and was quoted $100 per change.
She came to us and prepared a brand new Will for $39.95, and can now make her own updates.
You can create resources for your Executor through our LifeLocker services and Message Vault.
We have come a very long way since the days of the Canadian Will Kit. We harness the power of the Internet, allowing you to upload critical estate planning documents, create messages, document your funeral wishes, itemize your financial assets, and keep a record of your digital assets. With each of these you can name a keyholder who can gain access when they need it (and not before).
One of the most difficult challenges for your Executor will be collecting up your assets. There is rarely a paper trail these days, and many assets go undiscovered. We have brought Will writing and estate administration into the 21st century with sophisticated tools to ease the burden on everybody involved.
We don’t just charge you $800 for a four page document.
We can answer questions for you, free of charge, any time.
Yes, we have a support team based in Canada ready to answer any questions that you have by email and phone. Our team have all been with the company for many, many years (interesting stat….nobody has ever left our company!!). And we love helping people.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of LegalWills.ca.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets including CTV, Global News, The Toronto Star, and other leading Canadian publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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