There are essentially three approaches to writing a Will in Ontario.
- You can write your own Will starting with a blank sheet of paper or a blank form Will kit
- You can prepare your Will with a professional lawyer
- 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 Your Own Will in Ontario With a Blank Piece of Paper
Writing a Will in Ontario can be an expensive business. Lawyers advertise charges of around $500-$750 for a basic Will. However, you may think your situation is straightforward and the plans for your estate are simple. It may just not seem like good value for the money, particularly if you are anticipating changes in your personal or financial situation. You would require you to pay the same amount again for any updates to the Will.
With this in mind, you may be considering writing your own Will. Perhaps you may consider using a downloaded Will template, or a blank form Will kit that you have found on the internet.
This approach will certainly give you a legal document according to the laws of Ontario. Keep in mind that blank form Will kits are often criticized for being incomplete. They are often not specific to Ontario (and cover all of Canada), and sometimes not kept up-to-date to reflect law changes. For example, the law surrounding witnessing changed significantly in 2020/21 in response to the COVID pandemic.
If the entire document is written in your own handwriting, this is called a holographic Will. There can be nothing typed into the document at all. If the document is all handwritten, there is no requirement for witnesses and this is accepted in Ontario (note, that it is not accepted in BC. A completely handwritten Will in BC still requires two witnesses).
You should consider this approach only if you are in a very compromised situation. This type of Will is the most likely to be challenged or not accepted by the courts. Famously, Aretha Franklin wrote a series of handwritten Wills, and the estate is still going through lengthy (and very expensive) court procedures.
Writing Your Will in Ontario With a Lawyer
It’s worth noting that in Ontario, a Notary is not licensed to write a Will (in BC and Québec a Notary can write your Will). It is also illegal to write a Will for somebody if you are not a lawyer – this is considered to be the “unauthorized practice of law”. In the UK, there is nothing preventing you from offering your services as a “Professional Will Writer” but in Ontario, you must be a practicing lawyer.
Also note that although any lawyer can legally write your Will for you, not all lawyers specialize in Will writing. So if you do prepare your Will with a lawyer in Ontario, make sure that you find an estate planning lawyer, or a lawyer that specializes in “Family Law”.
The cost for preparing your Will with a lawyer ranges from about $350 to $800 for a single Will. Be wary of lawyers who insist on inserting themselves as the Executor of the Will. This can be useful if you do not have a friend or family member to take on the role. However, lawyers love this job because it can be extremely lucrative for not many hours of work. Executor compensation is set as a percentage of the estate, so simply transferring ownership of a home can be worth $50,000 to a professional Executor for just a few hours of work.
Usually, if you work with a lawyer, you are asked to complete an “intake form”. There you will list basic family details, key appointments, like guardianship and Executor, and the general distribution of your estate. If you do have some additional complexities with your estate, you may need to make multiple appointments with the lawyer (as the cost keeps increasing). The Will is then created (most lawyers use software to create the Will that inserts known “precedents” and compiles the clauses based on your situation).
You then return to the lawyer’s office for the signing.
If you are creating Wills for a couple – Mirror Wills, then you should both attend each of the meetings at the lawyer’s office.
Unfortunately, this approach is quite inconvenient, bearing in mind that each time you need to make an update to your Will, you will have to go through the whole process again (at the same cost).
Writing Your Will in Ontario Using Software
An increasingly popular approach to writing your Will in Ontario is the use of Will writing software. This used to be available on CD, but now these services are almost exclusively offered online. In Ontario, there are about 5 reputable online businesses offering Ontario Will writing services, ranging in price from $39 to $139.
This approach brings together the affordability and convenience of a Will kit, with the professional output of a lawyer. With most of these services, you can complete your Will in about 20 minutes from the comfort of your home, and update the document whenever you need to.
These services are not allowing you to write an “Online Will”. There is really no such thing as an online Will, or digital Will. You cannot digitally sign these documents – this is not yet legal in Ontario. To create a legal Will using online Will writing software, you step through a series of questions online, your document is then compiled based on the answers to your questions, you then download the final document, print it, and sign it in the presence of two witnesses.
Your final document is a printed piece of paper, signed in the presence of two witnesses, and this is completely legal in Ontario.
Once you have signed the document, and the two witnesses have signed, you have a fully legal Ontario Last Will and Testament. These witnesses do not have to be of any particular standing; they can be friends, neighbours or co-workers. The only restriction is that a witness cannot receive anything from the Will, so your witness should not be a beneficiary.
Notarizing and Registering Your Ontario Legal Will
There is absolutely no requirement to Notarize your Ontario Legal Will. You do not need to have it stamped by a lawyer, or Notary. There is also no requirement to file your document with any government or court department. In fact, in Ontario, there is no official Will Registry (there is a private company that offers this, but it is an entirely optional step).
You should store your document in a safe place that is known and accessible to your Executor. Your Executor is the only person who needs to access your Will, so you should not hide it or secure it in such a way that nobody can access it.
After you have died, your Executor should file your Will with the probate courts. At this time it is registered with the courts and it becomes a public document.
Write Your Ontario Legal Will Today
Each of the three approaches to writing an Ontario Will have their place. We do feel that attempting to write your own Will starting with a blank sheet of paper should only be considered if you are in a very desperate situation. Writing your Will with a lawyer is appropriate if you have a very complicated estate and need advice on the law.
Writing your Will using online software is a good fit for the vast majority of Canadian adults. The process takes about 20 minutes, and at LegalWills.ca costs only $39.95. You don’t have to complete the document in one sitting; you can start the process today, take as long as you need, and modify whenever necessary.
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