How to Write a Will in Ontario

There are essentially three approaches to writing a Will in Ontario.

  1. You can write your own Will starting with a blank sheet of paper or a blank form Will kit
  2. You can prepare your Will with a professional lawyer
  3. You can use Will writing software like the service at LegalWills.ca

Background to Ontario Law

In Ontario, a Will must comply with the Ontario Succession Law Reform Act of 1990. The law states that:

  • A Will is only valid if it is in writing (video Wills, audio recordings, or verbal promises are not legally accepted)
  • At the end of the document it must be signed by the “testator” (person for whom the Will is made) and also signed by two witnesses.
  • The testator may make a valid will completely in their own handwriting and signature, without the presence, attestation, or signature of a witness (this is a “holographic Will”).

There are other interesting clauses within the Succession Law Reform Act, including the minimum age, and special clauses for active military service members. However, the clauses we have highlighted are the most pertinent to the discussion of how to make a legal Will in Ontario.

Writing a Will in Ontario
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How Do I Change a Will if I Have an Existing Will?

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. It 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.

How not to change a Will
The Worst Way to Update a Will
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What to Do After You Have Written Your Will

Completing your Will is an important step, but it is not the only thing that needs to be done to get your affairs in order. Working through the suggestions below will not only help you organize all of your assets, but will also ensure a smooth process for your surviving loved ones.

Store Your Will and Be Sure That Your Executor Knows Where it is Stored

Once you have signed your Will in the presence of two witnesses, who in turn sign the document, it is a legal Last Will and Testament. At this point, you simply need to store the document in a place that is known and accessible to your Executor.

Your Executor is the only person who needs access to the Will. You do not need to share the document with your beneficiaries or family members. Some people simply give the Will to their Executor (or alternate Executor) for safe keeping in a sealed envelope.

There is no requirement to store the Will with any particular registry, and there is no requirement to register the document with any court or government department (this is done after you have died).

Your Will is a document that can be updated throughout your lifetime. Any time you make a change to your Will, you should sign the new document in the presence of witnesses. Ideally, any older Will should be destroyed, although this is not a requirement. Your most recently signed and dated Will is your “Last” Will and Testament and the only one that is active (assuming that it meets the legal requirements for a Will).

Storing your Will
Make sure that your Executor knows where your Will is stored.
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Understanding the words used in your Will

Are you thinking of writing a Will? Have you perhaps heard of terms like “Executor”, “Bequest”, “Living Will” and are now worried that the process of writing your Will may be beyond you? You may be wondering whether it is possible to write a Will without understanding all of these legal expressions. After all, that’s why many people hire a lawyer to prepare the document for them.

You may be surprised to learn that you really don’t need to understand any of these legal words in order to use a service like LegalWills.ca. However, the words may appear in your final Will, and in that context they will make sense to you. We also explain some of the key definitions when you are working through the service. But you may be interested to learn exactly what some of these words actually mean.

Perhaps you wrote your Will with a lawyer. You have had it witnessed and now it’s stored at your lawyer’s office but you still have no idea what it says. Don’t worry, this isn’t an uncommon situation. Many people go through the whole task of writing a Will and signing it when they don’t fully understand what it says.

Unfortunately in today’s legal world, estate attorneys don’t always have sufficient time to go over every detail and word of a Will. This is partly because their time costs money, but also because writing a Will is an everyday common practice to them. Therefore, they often neglect to go over the basics with their clients. An experienced and understanding estate attorney should always be willing to go over every detail of your Will and explain any confusing language so that you feel comfortable when signing it. However, the legal environment can be intimidating and attorneys may assume that you understand the legal terms when in fact you don’t.

Understanding legal words in the Will

At LegalWills.ca we almost fall into the same pattern ourselves when we talk to customers about the “Executor” and the “Beneficiaries”. We forget that some people may be hearing these words for the first time. They are words that are rarely, if ever, used outside of the context of writing a Will.

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More Will writing Myths

I recently happened upon a Facebook ad promoting an online Will writing service. There are a few different services in Canada, and because Facebook knows that I have an interest in Will writing, I seem to be targeted for every ad from all of our competitors. This particular ad has been running for many months, and garnered nearly 200 comments.

I feel a little sorry for this service provider though, because the comments are riddled with myths, misconceptions, or could we even go as far as to call it “fake news”. The comments section has a surprising level of misunderstanding. I thought it would be interesting to dissect some of these comments, and put the record straight.

The Holographic Will

“Half of it is handwritten and half is typed, which means courts will reject it as a holograph Will”.

The holographic Will causes so much confusion, but it’s really very simple. A Will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses to make it legal, but some provinces make an exception to this rule. Sometimes it is simply not possible to gather two witnesses (for example, if you are stuck under a rock), and you may need a Will in a hurry. So some provinces allow you to prepare a Will without witnesses if it is entirely written in your own handwriting. This is called a holographic Will.

Here’s the catch: not all provinces accept a non-witnessed holographic Will (notably British Columbia), so it makes sense to prepare a Will and sign it in the presence of two witnesses.

However, all provinces will accept a document that is signed in the presence of two witnesses whether it is all handwritten, all typed, or a mixture of the two.

So in answer to Jenn Hurst’s point, an online service is not helping you to prepare a holographic Will. If half of the document is typed, it is not a holographic Will, so it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses. A document that is signed in the presence of two witnesses will be accepted in all Canadian provinces, regardless of if it is typed, handwritten, or a mixture of the two.

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Trends in Canadian Will Writing – 2021 Will Survey

Five years ago, LegalWills.ca conducted a unique survey of Will Writing in Canada. We wanted to not only explore the number of Canadians with and without Wills, but also the number of people who had a Will, but felt it had not been kept up-to-date. We broke down these numbers by region, income, and age, and published the numbers on our blog.

In the five years since then, there have been a number of events that we have felt may have influenced these numbers, not the least of which has been the COVID-19 pandemic. As we reported at LegalWills.ca, and the article was picked up in the media, the pandemic caused a massive spike in Will writing.

In the last five years we have also seen a proliferation of new convenient Will writing tools from service providers offering some of the services offered by LegalWills.ca. At least five service providers have popped up since our last survey, including Willfora, OM Company, Willowbee, Willful, and Epilogue Wills. The services range from “work in progress” to actually quite good, and range from “absolutely free” to $139 for a simple Will. All of the service providers have one thing in common: they are all claiming significant success in encouraging Canadians to write their Will by offering a convenient alternative to making an appointment with a lawyer. We have also seen companies like Axess Law appear on Canada’s fastest growing businesses with their budget Will writing service for $200. There have also been technical innovations from companies like Notice Connect offering the Canada Will Registry and NotaryPro.ca offering virtual witnessing and Notarizing of Wills.

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Did COVID inspire more people to write their Will in 2020/2021?

At LegalWills.ca we have provided an online option for preparing estate planning documents since 2001. This gives our company a unique insight into industry trends and allows us to explore the triggers for writing a Will. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last 12 months has been a truly unique experience for us.

Will writing is traditionally one of those tasks that you just don’t get around to. The statistics bear this out, with our own survey showing that around two thirds of Canadian adults do not have their Will in place. Most of these people know that it’s important to write a Will, but it’s a task that is put off until next week, next month or next year.

However, in 2020 and 2021, something very dramatic happened. LegalWills.ca saw an incredible spike in the number of people writing their Will. There was a lot happening around the World, but the obvious conclusion was that the COVID-19 pandemic nudged people to finally get their Will in place.

At LegalWills.ca we felt that the sudden surge in Will writing was fascinating, and we wanted to take a deep dive into the motivation for writing a Will. We are fortunate to have a large pool of customers who we can ask the simple question, “Why did you decide to write your Will?”

Why do people usually write their Will?

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What makes writing a Will in Québec unique?

Overview of Writing a Will in Québec

Une version française de cet article apparaît sous la version anglaise


Everybody has a legal right to prepare their Will. But there are a few different approaches to doing this.

Did you know that you could write your Will on the back of a napkin. It would be a perfectly legal document and if it’s all in your own handwriting, it’s known as a holographic Will. In most Canadian Provinces this document doesn’t even need to be witnessed to be accepted by the courts. Quebec allows you to prepare a holographic Will and accepts it as a legal document.

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Couple’s Will – Writing Wills as a couple in Canada.

Fifty-five percent of the people who use the Will writing service at LegalWills.ca describe themselves as married, a further eleven percent are in a common-law relationship. In most cases, these people are preparing their Wills as a couple. Looking for a “couple’s Will”. In this post we want to break down exactly what is meant by a Couple’s Will, and the steps involved in creating Wills for two people when using the service at LegalWills.ca

Creating a couple's Will at LegalWills.ca
Couple creating their Will at LegalWills.ca

How can I prepare a Will in Canada?

Let us start by discussing the different ways to prepare a Last Will and Testament in Canada which boils down to essentially three approaches:

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Why writing a Will is the first thing to do as a new parent

Guest post by Barry Choi: a personal finance and travel expert based in Toronto who makes frequent media appearances. His website moneywehave.com is one of Canada’s top resources for anything related to travel and money. Barry shares his thoughts on the importance of Writing Will as a new parent.

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In 2017, my wife and I welcomed our daughter to the world. I wish I could tell you everything went according to plan, but it took years to get pregnant. It’s not like something just clicked one day, we had to get help via IVF.

It was a daunting process with many appointments and tens of thousands of dollars spent. We researched the topic and spoke to various healthcare professionals and parents who also faced a similar ordeal. When she was finally born, we knew she was a miracle, so we wanted to ensure that we cherished every moment with her.

Writing a Will as a new parent
Credit: Pexels

Unfortunately, we made one significant mistake right away. We didn’t get our wills set up. It took close to a year before we got them done and admittedly, there was more than one occasion where I thought to myself, what if?

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Why we’ve decided to help Education workers

Let me start this article by saying that we believe everybody should have a Will. I have a Will, I wrote my first Will when I was 30 years old before I was married and before I had children.

A Will is a key document that should be in everybody’s drawer. It is not a once-in-a-lifetime task, you write a Will as soon as you are an adult, and then you should update it throughout your life as your personal and financial circumstances change.

Free Wills for Education workers
credit: 123rf

But the reality is that most people don’t have a Will. Traditionally the process has been expensive and inconvenient. It just doesn’t make it to the top of the ToDo list. Survey after survey shows that about 65% of Canadian adults do not have an up-to-date Will in place.

But in our 20 years of offering our services, we have seen key triggers for Will writing. Every year, the first week of January is a busy one for us; people make New Year’s Resolutions and commit to getting their affairs in order.

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Yes, we now support Québec Wills!

We wrote a blog article back in 2014 explaining why we didn’t support Québec Wills. We explained that it was a really tricky challenge. But the good news is, that after months of work, we can now proudly say that our service is available across the whole of Canada, no exceptions. All of our services now support all Canadian Provinces and Territories, including Québec.

Quebec Wills

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.

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Working with a Will – The most common problems that arise

At LegalWills.ca, we help you to write your Will. We do not get involved in the probate process at all. After you have died, your Will is probated, and your Executor has the responsibility to carry out the instructions in your Will. Sometimes this is where the problems start and estate disputes arise.

This is separate from a challenge to a Will. These are arguments arising while the estate is being managed by the Executor.

We recently spoke to Neil Milton of Ontario-Probate.ca. He specialized in probating of estates and has seen first hand the kinds of problems that can arise, and he also knows how to fix them.

He has kindly prepared this guest article, distilling his knowledge into the most common types of disputes that crop up while the Executor is trying to manage an estate.


Common estate disputes

While there are many causes of estate disputes, formal ‘will challenges’ are actually quite rare.

Common estate disputes
Credit: 123rf

There are a whole host of grievances that people have which usually fall in to one of the falling categories:

  • Debts incurred by the deceased before their death and not paid before death;
  • Gifts made by the deceased before their death which reduce the size of their estate;
  • Obligations created by statute which must be paid by the estate before any distribution is made to beneficiaries;
  • Failure of the estate trustee to act at all;
  • Improper actions by the estate trustee; and,
  • Allegations that the will itself should be invalid (a ‘will challenge’).

Disputes in these difference categories are often handled by the Courts very differently – some are relatively quick and inexpensive to pursue, others are very complex and expensive.  It is very important to get the advice of experience legal counsel to determine whether there is a case and if so how to pursue it.

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Writing your Will is the first step – how to help your Executor

Online Will writing services have changed the game for Will writing. The traditional barriers of cost and convenience no longer apply. There was a time when a simply Will would cost $600 and take two or three visits to a lawyer. These visits would have to be co-ordinated with a spouse and other family members. Then if the Will needed to be updated, the whole process would have to be endured again.

It is not surprise then that the vast majority of Canadian adults don’t have a Will.

With online Will writing services, the costs have been brought down dramatically, so a Will can now be written for as little as $39.95. And of course the time consuming appointments are a thing of the past – you can just put the kids to bed, put your feet up, pick up your iPad and write your Will.

Writing your Will with LegalWills.ca

We now expect more people to be writing their Will, simply because the process is so much more convenient and affordable. Most people who use our service wonder why they left it so long

Google review
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Estate planning in troubled times

Today’s blog post isn’t quite like anything we’ve done before. We felt, all things considered, that it was important to connect with you all on a more human level. Even though we’re still working away behind the scenes, it certainly isn’t ‘business as usual’ for us — or for anyone for that matter.

It’s hard to ignore that things aren’t really all that ‘normal’. A lot of us are feeling uneasy, scared even, about what the future could possibly have in store. Those are natural feelings to have about the situation, considering there’s no official end date in sight to this crisis state we’re in. 

There is one particular group who, despite their fear and worries, are being asked to step up. We’re talking about front line healthcare workers; the unsung heroes who are risking their lives to keep us out of harm’s way. The doctors, nurses, caregivers, and medical staff are working around the clock in our hospitals; putting the care of others ahead of their own physical and emotional well-being.

Our CTO, Henry Raud, has a daughter who is a Registered Nurse, working on the front lines to diagnose and care for COVID-19 patients. “Every day, I am concerned about my daughter contracting this virus, especially given that thousands of healthcare workers around the world have already been infected, and far too many of whom have died. As a father, I can’t help but feel concerned for my daughter’s safety. But more than anything, I am extremely proud of her for what she is doing to help people to get through this crisis. She absolutely loves what she is doing, despite all the risks. I can’t imagine any father being more proud than I am right now. And I am thankful for all of the other healthcare workers out there, risking their lives in the same way to help everyone that they can.”

Healthcare workers, just like Henry’s daughter, are keeping our families, friends, and communities safe. Even with a dangerously low supply of PPE and medical resources across the board, they continue to show up to do their part to help us all through this. They are protecting those nearest and dearest to us — and we wanted to do our part to help protect what’s nearest and dearest to them; their families, their friends, their assets. It really is the least we could do.

That is why we have decided to join our peers in the online estate planning community in offering free Wills and Power of Attorneys to our healthcare heroes. These healthcare heroes are being directed to get their affairs in order, while they continue to combat this disease. Helping facilitate the process for them is the best way that we can give back.

Our mandate has always been to make estate planning affordable and convenient, and it is our core belief that every adult should have a Will, Power of Attorney, and Living Will in place. We have worked for 20 years to remove the barriers to doing this. Especially now, the importance of being able to prepare these documents from the comfort of your home comes into sharp focus.

To start working on your Will please send an email to [email protected] from your healthcare work email account with your Name and Employee ID. There you will receive instructions on opening your account and preparing your Will.

Thank you! We truly appreciate everything that you do to keep us well!

Tim Hewson, CEO, LegalWills

Every document you need – how to write it, and how much it costs.

We live in unprecedented times. We have a COVID-19 global pandemic. People are being told to self-isolate. Others are being placed in quarantine.

It’s a worrying situation that does not appear to be abating.

It may be time to pause and to think about which documents you should have in place. If COVID-19 goes away, and we all hope it does, these documents are still important, and will last you for the rest of your life. Hopefully that will be another 50 years or more. The documents may need to be updated as your circumstances change, but it is important to have them in place.

In this article we will describe a complete list of documents that you should put in place. We will explain how to create one, how much it costs, and the legal formalities for each.

Estate planning documents
Your important documents
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The Canada Will Registry

We receive a call almost daily that sounds something like:

“My father has recently died. We know he had a Will, but we can’t find it. What can we do?”

The simple answer is, keep looking. If you die, and nobody can find your Will, the result is exactly the same as dying without a Will. It is called “dying intestate” and your estate will be distributed according to Provincial laws.

All of the time (and money) that you put into preparing your Will counts for nothing if nobody can find it.

Canada Will Registry

Will Registry in Canada

There are some confusing aspects of Will Registration to clear up first.

Every Will in Canada is registered after it is probated. Most Wills in Canada are probated, but this happens after you have died. If you are looking for the Will of somebody who has died, then you can usually find the Will with an application to the local probate courts.

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An estate plan for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – The Expat Will?

Disclaimer: This article is using the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as an illustration of a widely experienced situation. We are not suggesting that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle use our service; it would be up to them to decide whether the Expat Will service at LegalWills.ca is a good fit for them. We have certainly seen people with wealth, surrounded by a legal team, write their own Will, or even die without a Will. But each individual would need to decide the best approach for themselves. We refer to them as “Harry and Meghan” in the article, but it could be anybody.

Disclaimer 2: This article is not legal advice. It is presented as general information which may or may not apply to your own personal situation.

You have probably heard by now, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are moving from the UK to Canada. There is a chance that they may buy property in Canada. Prince Harry is a UK citizen. Meghan Markle is an American citizen. Their son, Archie, is probably dual citizen UK and US, now being raised in Canada.

What does this all mean for their estate planning?

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Canadian estate planning quiz


Explanation of the answers

This was a tough quiz covering estate planning in Canada. In this article we will provide you with some explanations for our answers.

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What should be included in a Will if you have children?

If you have young children, it is critical to write a Will. The challenge of course is that you are busy, and co-ordinating time with a lawyer, and perhaps your partner is very difficult. So difficult, that this is a task that is unlikely to make it to the top of the To Do list for today, or even this week.

Fortunately online services like the Will writing service at LegalWills.ca makes the process much most convenient and of course significantly more affordable than preparing a Will with a lawyer.

This article gives an overview of why a Will is critical, what you can do within a Will, specifically if you have children, and how you can prepare a Will in a cost effective and convenient way. We also discuss why and how you can update a Will if circumstances change.

Write a Will

What are the key elements in a Will?

You probably think of a Will as a document that describes the distribution of your assets (possessions) after you have passed away. This is, of course, a significant part of a Will, and one of the most important reasons for preparing one.

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