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.
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.
Your Will is likely to be registered with the probate courts after you have died.
However, what we are discussing here is the registration of your Will while you are alive.
Two Provinces in Canada have a Will Registration process. British Columbia allows you to Register your Will with the department of vital statistics. The cost for this at the time of writing is $17 (this price has changed many times over the years). This service allows you to register the “location of your Will” not the Will itself. This means that you can make changes to your Will over your lifetime, and as long as you don’t change the location of the document, you don’t need to update your registration.
British Columbia law requires there to be a search of the Provincial Will Registry as part of the probate process.
The only other Province with an official Will Registry is Québec, and this is because of their extensive use of the Notary system. Any Will prepared by a “Notaire” must be registered, and if it is registered, it does not have to go through the probate process. It is very different from the rest of Canada.
The Canada Will Registry
We offer our Will writing services in the US, the UK, and Canada. There is no central Will Registry across any of these jurisdictions (except BC). In the UK, a private company called Certainty developed the “National Will Register” and at the time of writing claims to have 8.4 Million Wills in their system. There is no doubt that in the absence of an official Registry, Certainty has been very successful.
In Canada, NoticeConnect has created Canada’s Will Registry. It works in exactly the same way as Certainty in the UK, and the BC Will Registry.
In a few minutes, you can register the location of your Will. The location will be kept securely in the system, to be accessed after you have passed away by your Executor or loved ones.
Why should I register my Will?
Clearly, it is important that your Will is found. If you have named a friend or loved one as your Executor, you should tell them that they have been appointed in your Will. You should also tell them where you are storing your Will. But with the Will Registry you can be quite specific about the location of your Will.
You can, for example, explain that your Will is in the third drawer down of your filing cabinet in the yellow file folder. Or you can let your Executor know that it is being kept in a secure box in a storage unit, with the unit number, address and combination.
How do I register my Will with the Canada Will Registry?
The process for registering your Will is actually very quick. It just takes a few minutes. You need to provide some key pieces of information;
- Your name
- Date of Birth
- Date of the signing of your Will
- Storage location
- The names of your Executors (optional)
You then submit payment with the online form, and your Will is registered.
Can I store my actual Will with the Canada Will Registry?
No. The Canada Will Registry is not currently a document storage facility. Sadly, the law does not accept a scanned or copied version of your Will as readily as the original, so any Will storage service would be required to store a physical, signed paper document.
There is currently no central storage service for physical Wills in Canada that we are aware of.
Can I make copies of my Will? and do I register the locations of the copies?
The legal requirements for a Will haven’t changed since the law was written around 200 years ago. It must be on a piece of paper and signed in ink by the testator. The law was written before photocopiers, scanners, the internet, and the “cloud”.
The legal requirement clearly has shortcomings. Many a life has been lost in a house fire or natural disaster, with the Will being destroyed in the same event.
You can certainly make copies of your Will, and your copy will probably be accepted by the courts if it can be proven that the original has been accidentally lost of destroyed. But it is a convoluted court process, and there is always a presumption that if the Will cannot be found, the testator destroyed it intentionally. Unless it can be proven otherwise.
Making copies of your Will makes sense, but you should safeguard and register the original document.
How much does it cost to register my Will?
Here’s the good news. We share the goals of NoticeConnect to have as many Wills as possible registered with the Canada Will Registry. As such, we have an agreement in place with NoticeConnect to waive the $35 registration fee for all customers of LegalWills.ca.
When you purchase a Will with the service at LegalWills.ca you will be given a unique discount code. You can then go to the Canada Will Registry and register your Will at absolutely no charge. Please keep in mind that if you need to change the information in the Will Registry, the $35 charge will apply.
How does my Executor search the Canada Will Registry?
The cost for a standard search of the Will Registry is $95.
Your family member or Executor must firstly prove that you have died by providing a death certificate. The searcher then provides your details and after the search is complete they are given a certificate to say that the search is complete. If your Will is in the registry, the registry will confirm that the document exists, and provide the searcher with the appropriate details.
Anybody can apply to search for a Will, but the registry will validate that the searcher has a legitimate purpose for the search.
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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