If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve heard of Make a Will Week or Make a Will Month. But what actually is Make a Will Week? Why did it begin? What’s the point and what does it mean for you? Several Provinces recognize their own specific week or month annually to promote the same message: you need to make your Will. In the following article, we’ll go into why this is so important and answer several of the questions that you may have on Make a Will Week and Make a Will Month.
Make a Will Week and Make a Will Month are annual awareness campaigns, scheduled by their respective provinces, with the goal of informing and educating adults on the need for a Will.
“Determining how your wishes are expressed is a critical decision that impacts families and loved ones”, stated Lynne Vicars, President of the Ontario Bar Association – the originators of Ontario’s Make a Will Month.
During the awareness period, you will likely see law associations, estate planning attorneys and online Will companies releasing educational info in participation of the event.
Why Do We Have Make a Will Week / Month?
Despite the fact that every adult needs a Will, our national survey showed that 62% of Canadian adults still do not have a Will. Beyond this, an additional 12% of Canadians noted that while they did have a Will, it was actually out-of-date.
Why is Having a Will so Important?
Two of the most important functions of a Will are:
1. choosing how to distribute your estate among loved ones and
2. making key appointments including a guardian for minor children and an Executor to administer your estate.
Your estate distribution could be as simple as “leave everything to my spouse, and if we are both involved in a common accident, divide everything between our children”. But your Will allows you to do much more than this. You can include charitable bequests, leave a sum of money to a local community group, leave a particular cherished item to a grandchild, or give your favourite niece some money to travel the world.
A Will even allows you to make provisions for the care of a pet, through a Pet Trust.
Dying without a Will is a huge missed opportunity, as we saw with Prince and Aretha Franklin, who, instead of creating the Aretha Franklin young musicians scholarship trust, had most of the estate gobbled up by estate litigating lawyers.
This is also just the tip of the iceberg. For more information on the importance of having a Will, as well as several options for writing one, view our article on writing Wills in Canada.
Why Do Most People Not Have a Will?
Traditionally, Will writing has been an expensive and inconvenient process. A young professional couple with young children would need to make an appointment with an estate planning lawyer, coordinate their schedules and make child care arrangements. Usually a follow up appointment would be needed for the signing of the documents.
If you ever needed to update the Will, then you would have to go through the whole process again.
Most estate planning lawyers charge between $500 and $800 for a complete estate plan including a financial Power of Attorney and a Living Will. As a result, it just never seems to make it to the top of the ToDo list.
But we also hear comments like “my husband doesn’t believe in Wills” or “Fortunately, I don’t need a Will yet”.
This shows a complete misunderstanding of the process of Will writing. There is not a single estate plan that benefits from not having a Will. It is never a favourable strategy to not have a Will. A Will should be written as soon as you are an adult and updated throughout your life.
Writing your Will doesn’t really benefit you in any way – you will be dead. But if you care anything about the people you are leaving behind, you would take the time to prepare a Will. Many people who use the services at LegalWills.ca come to us having experienced a family member dying without a Will. They say “I never want to put anybody through what I’ve been through, I need a Will right now!”.
What Happens If You Die Without a Will?
If you die without a Will there is generally a lot of confusion. Nobody is in place to take charge because nobody has been named as the Executor or estate administrator. Eventually, hopefully, somebody will be able to establish themselves as a candidate for the estate administration, they will then apply to the probate courts to administer an estate without a Will.
The first step is for your estate administrator to prove to the probate courts that no Will exists. Once this is done, then they are granted the authority to act as the estate administrator which will allow them to go to the different financial institutions and gather your assets.
Of course, if you don’t have a Will, you probably don’t have a good inventory of your assets, so the chances are that some of your assets will go undiscovered. This means they will become the property of the bank, and eventually the government.
Did you know: Unclaimed assets in bank accounts are turned over to the Bank of Canada after 10 years go by without account activity or contact between a customer and their financial institution.
Dying without a Will is known as dying “intestate”. If you die without a Will, you will not be able to decide who inherits from you (nor what or how much they inherit). Your assets will be distributed based on the laws of your province, your estate will go through a lengthier probate process, and your family will have a much more difficult time obtaining your assets. This often leads to fighting and in some cases even legal battles between your surviving family members and loved ones. Dying without a Will truly does leave a much larger mess to deal with than if you were to simply define your wishes in your Will.
It is common for people to assume that when they die, everything will automatically go to their spouse. In fact, if you have children this only happens in Alberta and Manitoba. Every other province distributes an intestate estate between a spouse and children. This can often result in a family home being sold off in order to create the required shares.
If you are living common-law, and have lived with your common law spouse for 40 years, only some Provinces recognize this relationship. For example, in Ontario dying without a Will in a common-law relationship gives the surviving partner…..nothing.
If you have minor children and both parents are involved in a common accident, your children are put in the care of guardians. Hopefully you will have family members who put themselves forward as candidates. Ultimately, a judge will decide on the most appropriate guardian from the selection of applicants.
Of course, a judge will not know any of these people, so they will make a decision based on their biological relationship to the children, their financial means, their location, age and their own family status. The judge will not be able to assess their personal interactions with the children, their alignment with your own moral and spiritual beliefs, or parenting styles.
It is amazing how many people get stuck on our Will writing service with the question of guardianship. It is a very difficult decision, but one that is better made by you, rather than a judge.
If you name a guardian in your Will, the judge will use this appointment as the over-riding influence in their decision.
Are you still not sure that you need a Will? For example, what if you don’t have kids, or don’t care how your estate is distributed? We’ve prepared these additional resources for you to help understand why it would still be a good idea:
When is Make a Will Week / Month?
While not all provinces appear to have a dedicated event for raising awareness on Wills, here is a list of the provinces that do, or have before.
- Alberta: October (1st week)
- British Columbia: April (2nd week)
- Manitoba: April (4th week)
- Newfoundland and Labrador: December (2015, 3rd week)
- Ontario: November (whole month)
If your province has a Make a Will Week that we’ve missed, feel free to let us know in the comment section beneath this article.
What Does it Mean for Me?
All in all, your province’s Make a Will Week or Month is a great time to not only learn more about Wills, but also to finally jump in and get yours done. You also don’t have to wait until one of these weeks or months to get started either. There are plenty of free resources online to learn more about Wills, and several great options to get started right away. You can contact an estate planning attorney in your area (some can draft your Will for under $1000), or use an online Will service to write it for around $40.
With so many Canadian adults still lacking a proper Will, you don’t want to be a part of the statistic. Get started today, you won’t believe how satisfied you will feel. You will finally have peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
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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