The cost of a Will in Canada – explained.

Two of the most frequently asked questions we receive at LegalWills.ca is

  1. How come your Wills are so cheap?
  2. Why are your Wills so expensive?

In this article, we will discuss the cost of a Will. We will explain the different ways to prepare a Will, why each approach costs what it does, what you get and don’t get when preparing a Will in a certain way. Finally, we will explain what goes into our pricing of $39.95 for our Will service.

Executive summary of this article

  • A Last Will and Testament is a 4-6 page document that allows you to make key appointments, and describes the distribution of your assets (bank accounts, property etc) after you have died.
  • There are broadly speaking 3 ways to make a Will; i) visit an estate planning lawyer, ii) attempt to write your own using a do-it-yourself Will kit or blank sheet of paper and iii) use interactive software that guides you through the process.
  • Depending on the approach you take, this document can cost you absolutely nothing, or over $1,000. But each approach is a good fit for certain situations, and each has certain pros and cons which we explain in the article.
  • Our Will service costs $39.95. This covers our costs of customer support, legal team, software development, advertising. We do not sell your data or sell advertising to you. Our costs are covered by the price we charge for our Will service.

What exactly is a Last Will and Testament?

Cost of a Will
source: 123rf

A Last Will and Testament is a written document. It cannot be a video, an audio recording, a text, email, or a verbal promise (except in extreme, odd circumstances that don’t apply to most of us). The document can be either typed and signed, or written entirely in your own handwriting (called a holographic Will). A document written entirely in your own handwriting does not need to be witnessed. A typed document must be signed in the presence of any two adult witnesses who have nothing to gain from the contents of the Will (a witness cannot be a beneficiary, nor the spouse of a beneficiary).

Just to demonstrate how loose the formatting can be for a legally valid Last Will and Testament, in 1948 Cecil George Harris, a Saskatchewan farmer was pinned under a tractor. He scratched out a message on the fender of a tractor “In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris”. This was accepted as a legal Last Will and Testament.

Photo by Mark Ferguson

What is in a Last Will and Testament?

It turns out that Will of Cecil George Harris is not a very good one !! It misses some key elements.

We all know that a Will describes the distribution of your “estate” after you have died. Your estate is everything that you own; real estate, bank accounts, investments, possessions. You can list specific “bequests” in your Will e.g. “leave my signed Wayne Gretzky jersey to my nephew James Smith”, or you can simply divide your estate between beneficiaries e.g. “leave my entire estate in equal shares between my three children”.

A well drafted Will would also include an “alternate plan” in case any of your first choice beneficiaries cannot receive their bequest for whatever reason e.g. “if my daughter does not survive me by 30 days, then I give her share to be divided equally between her own children”

Beyond the distribution of your estate, your Will would also name somebody to take charge of everything – your Executor. This person has the responsibility to gather your assets, secure them, and then distribute them according to the instructions in your Will.

Your Will may also name guardians for young children if applicable. These are the people who will raise your children if neither parent is available. You can also set up trusts for young children so that they are given an inheritance, but it is managed for them until they reach an appropriate age to receive the inheritance directly.

How can I make a Will in Canada?

There are essentially three ways to write a Will in Canada. You can work with an estate planning lawyer. You can write your own using a blank sheet of paper or blank form do-it-yourself Will kit. Or you can use interactive software like the Will writing service at LegalWills.ca.

Writing a Will with a lawyer

How do I write a Will with a lawyer?

The process would start with finding a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. Not all lawyers do, so make sure that Will writing is a practice area for the law firm. You can look online, but try to find some law firms with many strong, independent reviews. Google reviews is a good place to start.

local lawyer reviews

You should try to find a price for the Will service up front. But this may prove to be difficult. Most lawyers have “starting at…..” pricing, with costs driven up by things like charitable bequests, trusts for minor beneficiaries and certainly lifetime interest trusts.

You may want to prepare for your visit with some thoughts and questions. We have provided a guide for meeting with a lawyer so that you can be ready for your consultation.

You then make an appointment. If you are a couple, you would most likely have to visit the law firm as a couple with both Wills written at the same time. Most lawyers do not write joint Wills anymore. You would need what is known as a “Mirror Will“.

Most law firms then have a form that you can complete at reception, this is passed to the lawyer, and if the Will is simple, most lawyers use Will writing software. Your details are entered, and the Will is created. Not many lawyers start writing a Will with a blank piece of paper – software allows them to rely on well established “legal precedents” to ensure that you have a well drafted Will.

What are the pros and cons?

You are paying much more for your Will, but you get the benefit of being able to receive legal advice if you need it. This is particularly useful if you have legal doubts over what you are trying to accomplish in your Will, like disinheriting a spouse without the spouse being aware of this. It is also useful if you are trying to do something complicated; like prepare a trust for a child on disability benefits who will need lifelong care. This type of “Henson Trust” is best prepared by somebody with knowledge of the law.

Also if you want to use creative strategies to reduce tax and probate fees, this option may be a good one. For example, in Ontario some lawyers have used dual Will strategies; one for corporate assets and one for personal assets, as a way of reducing probate fees. This was undermined by a recent court ruling that declared it an illegal approach, but this was overturned by a Supreme court ruling. But if you want to try something like this, you definitely need a lawyer.

But the process is not only expensive, but it’s quite inconvenient. If you are married with young children, you will have to make an appointment at a time that works for both of you, and arrange childcare. The process usually requires a follow-up appointment to review the document and then sign the Wills. If you need to make changes for whatever reason, you will have to go through the process all over again.

It is theoretically possible for your Will to be out of date as soon as you get home. For example, you may think about a charity that you wish to incorporate in your Will. The process for making a change to the Will is as inconvenient and often as expensive as creating the Will in the first place. That’s why our survey found that only 26 percent of Canadians had an up-to-date Will.

How much does it cost?

In general according to Canadian Lawyer magazine, a simple Will for an individual starts at about $400, a complex Will is $800-$1,100, a financial Power of Attorney is $150-$200, a Living Will is priced at $100-$200.

But you have to keep in mind other charges like “Will storage” which is usually a completely unnecessary expense. Lawyers also like to have themselves named as the Executor of the estate. This is great news for a lawyer who can charge not only an hourly rate, but also a percentage of the estate. But an absolute waste of money that should be avoided at all costs. In the UK, the Guardian newspaper exposed this practice as the “great final rip-off“.

It makes much more sense to name a friend or family member as the Executor. The Will usually allows them to hire professional help as and when it is needed. So the lawyer would be paid by the hour, rather than as a percentage of the estate. This could potentially save the estate tens of thousands of dollars.

Who would benefit from this option?

There are two reasons when working with a lawyer makes sense. When you need legal advice, and when you need “estate planning strategies”.

Keep in mind that if your Will says something like “leave everything to my spouse, and if we are both involved in an accident at the same time, leave everything to my children” you do not need legal advice to prepare this type of Will. But if you need reassurance that your document is going to be “right” and you do not have confidence to prepare your own, then this is a great option for you.

If you want to use creative strategies to reduce probate fees or even taxes then a lawyer may be able to help. Bear in mind, that they are not tax professionals, and you may end up putting together a small team of estate planning lawyers, tax professionals and corporate lawyers. It can sometimes be frustrating knowing where one set of skills passes to the domain of another professional.

Using a DIY Will kit or blank form

How do I write a Will with Will kit?

There are many Will kits available from places like Staples, Amazon Chapters or Walmart. The same brands seem to appear in all of these retail outlets, although there are also some Canadian Will kits that sell only online.

These kits typically come with a step by step guide, with some blank forms. You handwrite into the spaces on the form, and then sign at the end in the presence of two witnesses. Once signed and witnessed, the document becomes a legal Last Will and Testament.

What are the pros and cons?

The obvious benefit of this type of kit is that they are very affordable. Some are even free of charge. For a very simple Will they can work, if everything is filled out correctly. If you order online, you don’t even need to leave your house.

But there are limitations. Firstly, they are not usually specific to your Province. There can be Provincial differences in the law, so the Wills have to be generic enough to not be impacted by Provincial laws.

But they are extremely prone to errors. Usually they just leave too much space to be filled by the Will writer, and lots of space means opportunity for mistakes. This image is from an actual Will kit that we purchased for $20.

An actual DIY Will Kit

This is an extremely difficult page to complete.

Trying to write your own Will starting with a blank piece of paper is worse. It is an assignment that belongs in a final year law degree exam. It’s not something that can be done by a layperson.

How much does a Will kit cost?

This is the beauty of the Will kit. It costs from zero, to a maximum of about $40. But a Will kit that costs nothing should be avoided. This means that lawyers have not been paid to create the kit. It means that nobody was paid to produce the materials in the kit (so it probably hasn’t been updated in a while), and that nobody is being paid to support the kit.

This means that if you have any questions, there is nobody available to answer your questions.

It also means that it may not have been even produced by a proper company. So there is no insurance or liability associated with the kit.

Who would benefit from this option?

The only people benefitting from this option are those who cannot use any other option. For people who cannot afford legal fees (or don’t want to pay legal fees) and those who are not comfortable using interactive software.

But don’t be misled into thinking that Will kits are a good option for people with simple estates. They are too error prone to be recommended as a solid option for anybody who can either use the services of a lawyer, or for anybody who is comfortable using online interactive software services.

Using online interactive software

How do I write a Will an online Will service?

The first step is to have access to a computer and the internet! You then need to find an appropriate online Will service. We have written a complete review of the best Will writing services in Canada.

There have also been independent third party reviews of the leading online Will services.

You would go to the website and then you are typically guided through the process of writing your Will. The service will prompt you with a series of questions, written in everyday language. You will name your key appointments, and describe the distribution of your estate.

Canadian Will

At the end the service will compile your Will based on the answers to the questions and your Province of Residence. The document can then be downloaded and printed, to be signed in the presence of two witnesses.

Once it is signed and witnessed, it becomes a legal document.

Many online services then allow you to return at a later date if you need to make any updates or changes.

What are the pros and cons?

There are at least six significant advantages to using an online Will writing service.

  1. It is affordable. Online Will writing services cost anywhere between $39 and $99.
  2. It is convenient. You can prepare your Will directly online from the comfort of your home. If you are busy, you can get through your day’s commitments, and then put your feet up in the evening and write your Will. You don’t even have to do it all in one sitting, you can spend a few minutes each evening preparing your Will, but if you do it in one sitting, it usually only takes about 20-30 minutes.
  3. There are usually a number of value added services. For example, at LegalWills.ca we have a free MyFuneral service, we allow you to upload documents to a digital vault, you can document your assets for your Executor using our LifeLocker service, you can even prepare messages for loved ones using our MyMessages service. Online Will services are working hard to differentiate themselves and there is now a big difference between an online service and a traditional law office which hasn’t really evolved their product offering in a hundred years.
  4. You will learn about your Will. When stepping through the service you are guided through the process and online context-sensitive help can answer questions for you along the way. For example, on the page for selecting an Executor, the help text will describe what an Executor does, and the considerations that go into the decision. At the end of the process, you will have a much better understanding of your final document.
  5. You can make updates when you need to. One of the most important benefits is being able to incorporate changes in your personal or financial situation, or even a change of circumstance for anybody named in your Will. For example, if your alternate Executor is taken ill and you have written your Will with a lawyer, you are highly unlikely to update your Will. This means that you have a document without a backup Executor. If, on the other hand, you have prepared your Will using an online service, you would probably take the 5 minutes to make sure that your Will is always current and reflecting your circumstances at that time.
  6. You are more likely to be creative with your estate. The Will writing process with a lawyer can be intimidating, and you may not feel free to truly express yourself through your Will. It is not uncommon for people writing their Will at LegalWills.ca to list dozens of individual bequests. It could be $100 for each of 20 charities, or different cherished heirlooms going to different family members. Being able to take your time with getting the distribution exactly right is more likely to happen if you write your own Will. Writing the document yourself also means that there is no opportunity for your wishes to be misunderstood by a third party Will writer.

However, there are also disadvantages of using an online service compared to going to a lawyer.

  1. It is possible to make a mistake. Particularly if you select an option that starts “none of the above, let me describe what I want to happen”. With this option you can write free text that could be unclear or ambiguous. There is also a key step to take after you have printed the Will – it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses. If you don’t take this step, you won’t have created your legal Will.
  2. You will not get legal advice for your particular situation. Our support team can answer questions about the use of the service, and provide any general information that is available to the public. But we cannot give you legal advice to cover your specific situation.

What are the limitations of an online Will service?

There are many misconceptions surrounding the scope of an online Will service. We are often asked questions like

“Is this service specific to my Province?”

“Does it cover a situation where my spouse and I are both involved in an accident at the same time?”

“Can I leave specific bequests to particular people?”

“Does it have a residual clause?”

These are all basic, basic requirements. Every single reputable online Will writing service would provide for these. Any criticism of an online service that raises this type of limitation is decades out of date.

There are of course limitations; like complex trust arrangements. But the online Will service can serve the needs of the vast majority of the population.

How much does it cost?

Online Will services range from around $40 to around $100. We reviewed the five leading service providers and they all have a slightly different way of billing. One allows you to prepare the document for free, but then signs you up for a monthly ongoing charge. This can catch some people out, and there have been reports of it being difficult to cancel the ongoing fee.

Free Last Will and Testament
Review of one of our service competitors !!

Others charge more up front, but allow you to make unlimited updates for life. However, the company that offer that option has only been around for a little over a year, so you would need to assume that the company would last for the rest of your life!

How much is the Will service at LegalWills.ca?

The Will service at LegalWills.ca costs $39.95. With this payment, you are able to prepare your Will, it also gives you one year of unlimited updates to the document. You are able to print the document as often as you wish during that first year. You can download it as a PDF or Word file, but to make your document a legal Will, it must be printed and signed in the presence of two witnesses. The online version is there for your convenience only.

If you choose not to maintain an account with us after the first year, your initial payment is all you will ever pay. We do not keep credit card details on file and cannot automatically charge beyond this initial payment.

You can if you wish choose to store your documents online for longer than a year which will make it easier to make updates in the future to reflect any changes in your personal or financial situation (rather than returning to a lawyer each time). This is of course optional, but it does make the process of maintaining your document more convenient. $11.95 will give you one additional year of updates, or you can purchase multiple years e.g. 5 years at $24.95, 10 years at $34.95, 25 years at $74.95 ($3 per year). We also have a lifetime of unlimited updates option for $124.95.

Every time you make an update to your Will, it must be printed and signed in the presence of two witnesses again. If you choose not to maintain an account with us, you will always have your printed, signed document. If you don’t need to make changes to that document, it will last you for the rest of your life, whether or not you have an account with us.

Who would benefit from this option?

Online Will services seem to occupy a gap between an expensive lawyer and an inadequate blank form Will kit. They generally have the flexibility to cover most situations at an affordable price.

They generally use the same software that is used by lawyers across Canada, so usually the end result is word-for-word identical to a Will prepared by a lawyer.

Equally importantly, these services are convenient. You can update your Will sitting in an airport lounge if you want to, or write your Will sitting on a beach in Mexico. You can put the kids to bed, and work with your partner on writing not only your Wills, but your Power of Attorney, Living Will and other critical estate planning documents.

This type of service works well for anybody who does not have a lawyer that they regularly work with.

Why is the Will service at LegalWills.ca $39.95?

How have we set our price at $39.95 for a Will? There are two ways to look at this; the cost of providing the service, and the value offered by the service.

Costs of our service

Our service not only allows people to write their Will, but also offers the opportunity to update that Will over time. We have been offering the service for 18 years now, and we want to be able to honour the purchase for anybody who chose “lifetime of unlimited updates”. So we have to formulate a financially stable business model.

Our costs go into legal fees to develop the services, software design to continually develop the website, customer support and corporate administration (hosting, insurance, offices etc). We also have significant advertising costs to ensure that people find us! There are no “middle managers” being paid to create vision and mission statements.

We do not generate any money whatsoever from selling customer data or selling advertising. We do not share our customer data with any third party. All of our revenue is from the cost of the service.

Value of our service

In terms of value we allow you to prepare a Will at about one tenth the cost of seeing a lawyer, but we offer a great deal more than a law firm. We offer convenience, value added services and unlimited free customer support.

When compared to other online service providers our Will service is the most comprehensive. We are the only website that has a section on charitable bequests, pet trusts, lifetime interest trusts for blended families.

Overall we are the only service provider with a digital vault, Executor handbook through our LifeLocker service, the ability to handle assets outside of Canada through the ExpatWill service. As well as many more extras like the MyFuneral service, MyMessages, MyKeyholders, MyWalletCards. We go way beyond a simple Will writing service.

Why would I choose LegalWills.ca over another online Will writing service?

Other than the completeness of the Will writing service, and the breadth of our estate planning portfolio. There are three significant factors that puts LegalWills.ca ahead of every other service provider.

Third party reviews

At the time of writing, LegalWills.ca has well over 600 Google Reviews. The vast majority are five stars, with some four stars (and 1 one star from somebody who didn’t use the service), giving us a 4.9 star overall score. No other service provider comes close.


Importantly within those reviews are comments from people who have used the service for a loved one, the family member died, and the reviewer took the Will through the probate process – without an issue.

Online Will service review

This leads to the second factor.

Longevity

It is important to use a service that has stood the test of time. After 18 years we know that our Wills work. Over half a million people have used our services. Hundreds of people have used our service and subsequently died.

When a new service provider comes online we take a look. We have seen mistakes in documents created by other service providers that cannot possibly appear in our documents.

If you do have questions about your documents, we have a Canadian based support team online and ready to help you.

Innovation

Throughout our 18 years we have continually developed our services. We have uploaded new code every single day to either refine what we have, or launch something new. We are the only service provider to offer our innovative keyholder process that allows you to secure information to be accessed after you have passed away. Our digital vault and LifeLocker service are original and unique. We have designed and created a unique Mirror Will creation tool that significantly speeds up the writing of two Wills for couples. We have developed all of these enhancements because we feel that they are a critical part of the whole estate planning process.

Write your Will today

Hopefully this article gives you a better understanding of what a Will is, how much it costs, and why we charge what we charge. The best way to see whether we have hit the right balance of completeness and value for money is to give us a try. Just go to www.legalwills.ca/mywill and click on “Try It Right Now”.

Tim Hewson

President and CEO at Canadian Legal Wills
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of LegalWills.ca.

He has over 19 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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