A Last Will and Testament should not be written once in a lifetime. It should be written as soon as you become an adult, and should be updated throughout your life as your circumstances change.
There are a number of reasons for updating a Will. You may have had a change of financial circumstances or your personal situation may have changed. For example, you may have married or had children.
There may also have been a change of circumstances for somebody named in your Will. Perhaps your Executor has taken ill or your chosen guardians for your children have moved overseas.
You may also simply have had a change of heart. A charity may have become a significant part of your life and you want to recognize their work in your Will. Of course your relationships with your beneficiaries can also change.
What happens if you have a Will in place and want to change that Will?
There are Three Ways to Legally Change a Will
1: You can manually annotate your Will by writing on it. You would still need to at least initial the change, and also have two witnesses sign or initial next to that change. This is the least preferred approach to updating a Will because it is the most likely way to have a Will challenged. However, if the change is relatively benign, you could certainly consider this, E.g. for updating an address.
2: You can prepare a codicil. This is a piece of paper that describes a change in the Will and is then attached to the Will. It would typically say something like “In the attached document, clause 2 “Executor”, change the name John Doe of Toronto, Ontario, to James Green of Edmonton Alberta”. Again, this document would need to be signed in the presence of two witnesses. Codicils were very useful back in the days of typewriters because it could save the work of re-typing the whole document. Today, they are seldom used.
3: You can prepare a new Will. This is the most appropriate way to make a change to your Will, particularly if you have an account at LegalWills.ca. You can simply login to your account, make the change, and then print out a new Will. You then sign the new document in the presence of two witnesses and you have a new Last Will and Testament.
What if I Have an Existing Last Will and Testament?
It is very common for people to come to LegalWills.ca wanting to update an existing Will that has previously been written by a lawyer. Often a lawyer will quote $500 or more for updating a Will. This seems unreasonably high, particularly when the changes are minor amendments rather than a complete re-write.
When you prepare a new Will at LegalWills.ca, the first clause of the Will states “I hereby revoke all previous Wills…”. This means that when the new document is signed in the presence of two witnesses, any previous document is automatically cancelled.
This is useful to know if your Will is being stored by the lawyer, and you do not feel comfortable asking for your document and explaining that you have gone elsewhere. You may just not want to get into that discussion.
Ideally you should not have various versions of your Will stored with different people. It can potentially cause confusion at probate time if different people present different versions of the Will to the probate courts. However, even if this does happen, your most recently dated document is your Last Will and Testament. All previous documents serve no function.
Ideally, when you prepare a new Will, you should destroy, or shred any previous document.
Registering the Will
There is some confusion over the requirement to register a Will.
In Canada, there is absolutely no requirement to register a Will in order to make it legally valid. In fact, most Provinces do not even have a Will Registry of any description. Only British Columbia and Quebec have a Will Registry.
In BC, you can register “the location” of your Will with the Department of Vital Statistics. In practice, this is only useful if you have written your Will with a lawyer and your family members have no knowledge of which law firm was used to prepare the Will. In this situation, your family can submit a request to the BC Will Registry and hopefully they will be told that the Will is stored at “Smith, Jones and Brown, Estate Lawyers, in Vancouver”. They are then able to inform the lawyer that you have died and that the Executor needs the Will (or if the lawyer is named as Executor, they need to start their work).
If you used the service at LegalWills.ca you have probably named a friend or family member as your Executor, and this person would probably know that you have died. Hopefully, you told this person that they have been named as your Executor and they were told where you stored your Will.
If you took this approach to writing your Will, there is really no point in registering your Will with the Department of Vital Statistics in Victoria.
There is also a Canada Will Registry created by a private company called Notice Connect. This service offers the same as the BC Will registry, but across Canada. We do partner with the Canada Will Registry to offer free Will registration, but again, this is an entirely optional step.
Your Will is registered AFTER you have died. Your Executor must submit your Will to the probate courts, where it is accepted as your official Last Will and Testament and then filed with the court records. It is then a public document that anybody can submit an application to view. As such, you should be careful about exactly what is written into your Will.
Write Your Will Today
If you have an existing Will in place, but need to make changes, we would recommend preparing a new Will using our service at LegalWills.ca. The whole process takes about 20-30 minutes and costs $39.95. Our service is significantly more convenient and more affordable than working with a lawyer to update your existing Will.
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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