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.
Advantages of an online Will service
There are at least, six good reasons why you might want to consider using a “Write your own Will” service like the one at LegalWills.ca.
You might actually write your Will
Depending on which report you read, about 65 percent of Canadians do not have an up-to-date Will in place and for some age groups (like the 18-35 year olds) that number is as high as 88%. Being that a Last Will and Testament is a critical document that every adult absolutely must have, this would appear to be a broken system. One of the most frequently cited reasons for not having a Will is that the process is inconvenient. An online Will service addresses this by allowing you to prepare your own Will from anywhere in the World, at any time that suits. You simply step through the service, answer the questions, download and print your Will and then sign it. If you started the process at midnight tonight, you could have your legal Will in your hands by 12:20am.
It is affordable
The number two reason for not having a Will is that it is expensive. I can’t count the number of times that I have heard a lawyer saying that “it’s not really that expensive and spending $800 today saves your family a lot of aggravation after you have passed away”. Having a Will certainly makes things easier for your loved ones, but $800 is both a lot of money, and really poor value for money. Many users of LegalWills.ca come to us, not because they can’t afford to spend $800, they just feel that it is too much money to pay for 15 minutes of a lawyer’s time. And all of us have to choose our priorities that level of spending.
We often hear from people who needed a temporary document as they were leaving on vacation and needed the Will in a hurry. They prepared their Will using our service for $34.95, and when they return from their trip they spent $800 on a “proper Will” only to find that it is verbatim, word-for-word the same as their “cheap Will”.
No need for a codicil
Many Canadians are sitting on a Will that is years out of date. Lawyers attempt to future-proof their Wills by including phrases like “all future issue” meaning that the Will covers any children that you may have in the future, but this is used as a work-around strategy because updating a Will can be extremely expensive and inconvenient. Anna Nicole Smith‘s Will has been in the courts for years because she didn’t update it in time to include her 5 month old daughter. Michael Crichton ended up in the same situation. But beyond the classic family milestones of having additional children or getting married, a Will needs to be updated whenever there is a change of circumstance of anybody named in the Will – If your Executor is no longer the best choice, a beneficiary has pre-deceased you, the guardians for your children are no longer available, your Will needs to be updated. Fortunately, at LegalWills.ca you can just login to your account, modify that part of the document and print a new Will, no appointment necessary.
It’s an education
We often receive feedback from users of our service thanking us for the education that they have received about the process of creating a Will. We prompt them to think about different scenarios, invite them to think about charitable giving, provide tips on selecting an appropriate Executor, discuss guardianship issues and generally provide help every step of the way. We explain the process of not only writing the Will, but also how your Executor will go through the probate process. When you read your Will, you are likely to understand it and be more confident that it actually reflects your true wishes.
We provide value added features
Because we can harness the power of the internet we are able to provide a more complete set of services beyond your essential estate planning documents. Of course we allow you to prepare your Last Will and Testament, Living Will (Healthcare Power of Attorney) and Financial Power of Attorney, but we round these services out with:
- Lifelocker service: One of the key challenges for your Executor is locating and gathering up your assets. Our Lifelocker service allows you to securely document your “key people to contact”, the location of your assets and login credentials with instructions for your digital assets. This is made available to your Executor at the appropriate time (and not before).
- Funeral wishes: We recommend that you do not include your funeral wishes in your Will itself. We provide a free service that steps you through some of the thought processes associated with arranging your funeral. The final document can be stored with your Will, but does not have the formal signing requirements of your estate planning documents.
- Keyholders: You can name trusted individuals and grant them access to certain documents within our service. For example you can allow your Executor to unlock your Lifelocker, or allow your family to see your funeral wishes.
- Messages: You can create messages to send to loved ones after you have passed away. These are unlocked by your keyholder and delivered to specific people at the appropriate time.
What’s the problem with online Will services?
In closing I would like to debunk 3 myths about online Will services
Myth 1: They are incomplete documents.
When a lawyer prepares your Will they enter your information into a software program and it generates a Will. We use that same software. In most cases, the final Will is word-for-word the same. If you have some complexities in your situation e.g. a child with special needs, then you would need intricate trust clauses to be written and our service is not appropriate for you, but for the vast majority, our service creates a complete document including about 25 clauses including trusts for minors, guardianship and powers to the trustee.
Myth 2: They do not take into account local laws
I find it quite amusing when this is offered as an objection to an online Will service. Of course we take into account Provincial differences. The first question that we ask is your location and the service then takes you down a specific path. We have actually found the greatest variation in Power of Attorney laws, but all of our services are Provincially specific. However, the concern is real for blank form kits; when I search Amazon.ca for “Will Kit” one of the first results is WillMaker Plus, a US product.
Myth 3: They are not up to date
The Wills, Estates and Succession Act for BC came into force on March 31, 2014, Alberta had significant changes in 2012. We always monitor and make changes to our service when the laws change. This is another of our our significant advantages over blank form kits.
So please don’t be put off by scare tactics telling you that you cannot prepare your own Will, and online services are not legal. You can absolutely prepare your own Will, it really isn’t very difficult and you should take care of it today.
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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