Introduction to Preparing a Will
Everybody should have a Will; not making a Will is unfair to those you leave behind. Even if your plans for estate distribution are simple and you do not have many assets, it is still much easier for the people that you leave behind to work with a Will than to resolve the estate of a person who has died intestate (without a Will). If you do not feel that you have significant assets now, remember that your Will only comes into effect when you die, not now, and you cannot possibly predict how large your estate will be when your Will is required. Preparing a Will is one of the most important tasks you can undertake if you have loved ones, sadly most of us put it off until it is too late.
By law, any competent adult can make their own legal Will; the law does not require you to have an attorney or a lawyer, to do this. A Will does not need to be a complicated document; it simply has to clearly state your wishes for the distribution of your estate.
What is a Mirror Will?
A Mirror Will is actually two Wills, usually created by partners or married couples. The two Wills typically name each partner as the main beneficiary of the other partner’s estate. There may be other specific gifts within the Will, such as gifts to charities, but the two Wills look identical to each other, except that typically, the name of the main beneficiary is the partner of each testator.
Person A leaves everything to Person B. Person B leaves everything to Person A.
Then for the two Wills to be true mirror Wills, each Will describes an identical alternate plan in the event that both partners are involved in a common accident. Often this is that the entire estate is then distributed to the children.
Why Do Most People Avoid Writing a Will?
Why do most people avoid writing a Will? Recent headlines suggest that people can avoid paying taxes for a considerable period. You just have to know your way around the system. However, none of us can cheat death forever.
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”
Immortality is not an option. We all know that one day our time will come. Yet most of us just don’t want to think about it. This is probably one of the most common reasons for not writing a Will.
A Will allows you to decide what happens to your assets and even your children if you die. So why is it that less than half of the adult population of Canada have made a Will? It is an easy process which doesn’t cost much in terms of time or money.
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 LegalWills.ca 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.
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.
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.
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 LegalWills.ca 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 LegalWills.ca 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
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. Continue reading
Dying intestate means that you have died without a Will.
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
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 LegalWills.ca, the online convenient affordable service for writing a 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.
I was told that if I don’t create a Will through a lawyer, somebody will end up challenging the Will. 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 write a Will yourself, or through a service like LegalWills.ca 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.
CBC’s Marketplace recently featured a special – trying to find the most shocking fees charged by lawyers in Canada.
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 !!
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.
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
Is it possible to get a will written without a lawyer? What is an online Will?
We saw this question recently posted on Quora and we were a little surprised by the misinformation provided in the answers. They included the tired old analogies to “you wouldn’t remove your own appendix, so you shouldn’t prepare your own Will” (the two tasks are nothing close to comparable), and also a rather surprising answer from a lawyer who claimed “In non-emergency situations, you must get it done through a lawyer.” which is absolute nonsense.
I would like to provide some reasons why it would actually be advantageous to prepare a Will without a lawyer, but first some clarification on the term “online Will”
What is an “online Will” service
There is no such thing as an online Will. A Will has to be printed, signed and witnessed in order to be made legal. Online, scanned or digitized versions of a Will are not legal documents. Any service that offers to store your Will online or in the cloud are misrepresenting what they can do because based on current law in Canada, a copy of a Will stored in the cloud cannot be probated. Our partner website that allows you to write your own Will in the US recently published a blog post explaining this. So when we talk about an online Will service, we are really talking about an Will service that is online. Once you have stepped through the service, the document must be printed, signed and witnessed to be made into a legal Last Will and Testament. Continue reading
I don’t get it….you say you are Canadian Legal Wills, but you don’t support Québec. Québec is a part of Canada you know…
Whenever we receive any kind of feedback, we always do everything we can to address the issue, but the support of Québec Wills is a really tricky challenge.
Background to Québec Law on Wills
To provide some background, Québec law was established around the middle of the 17th century. Louis XIV decreed that the laws of Québec would be based on the laws of Paris which were a variant of “civil law”. Although the laws changed a little in the years that followed, the Québec Act of 1774 reinstated the Civil law system for the Province of Québec even though it had since been placed under British rule. When Canada was officially created in 1867 all Provinces adopted the British “Common law” of English origin while Québec retained their “Civil Law” derived from the Napoleonic code.
If a Canadian dies without a Will, they have left a bit of a mess for their loved ones, and sadly missed out on an opportunity to distribute their assets in a meaningful way. Instead of recognizing friends or organizations that have made an impact on their life, they have left all of the planning to their Provincial government who have already decided how the assets will be divided. It may come as a surprise however, to learn that every Province is different and that there are some very inaccurate assumptions. In this post we will run through a few scenarios, and highlight some Provincial differences.
Let us start with the most common misconception;
If you are married, then your entire estate will go to your spouse.
The statistics still show that over 65% of adults in Canada do not have an up-to-date Last Will and Testament – even though most people know that they need a Will. Once in a while, somebody will tell us that they don’t need a Last Will and Testament – yet. Here are the top ten excuses for not having a Will, and we will explain why everybody should take the time to prepare their Will write now.
1. Everything is going to my spouse whether I have a Will or not
In reality, there is not a single Province in Canada in which you can guarantee that this will be the case. Without a Will, the distribution of your estate is determined by “intestate law”, which follows a rather complicated flow depending on your family situation. What makes it more complicated is that no two Provinces are the same. In most Provinces, if you are married with children, your spouse will not receive the entire estate. Continue reading