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Step-by-Step Guide: How to Write a Will in Canada

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Writing a legally binding Will is not difficult. You just need to understand and follow the requirements. If you’ve been putting off completing this document, now is the chance to tick it off your list easily.

Let’s get started with these seven simple steps on how to write a Will.



In this post, we’ll cover why you need a Will,  how to write a Will, how to write a legally binding Will in Ontario and BC, and how much it costs to write a Will. Read on!


What Is a Will?

A Will is a legal document that decides what happens to your property if you die. A Will is also known as a Last Will and Testament. It says how you want your estate to be shared, i.e., who you want your belongings to go to, how, and who should be in charge of making it happen. 

Your estate comprises what you own (your assets) and what you owe (your liabilities). Your name gives you the chance to name someone responsible for distributing your assets (an executor) and your children’s legal guardian.

An executor’s responsibilities can range from filing court papers to reaching out to people listed in the Will to talk about how to split the assets. You’re not legally required to make a Will. If you don’t have one, your province or territory laws will determine how your estate is distributed.

Getting professional legal services when making your Will is a good idea. That way, you’ll be sure all your documents are ready and properly witnessed. You may have to update your Will at different stages of your life. A Will you wrote several years ago can become outdated. For instance, after major events like buying a house, having a child or grandchild, after a divorce or separation, retirement, etc., your will has to be revised. 


Why Do You Need a Will?

Writing a Will gives you a measure of control over what happens to your estate after you die. It ensures all you own go to the exact people you want to pass them to. Not having a Will can result in a complicated situation, especially if you own assets that you plan to have the ownership passed on. 

A will can also assist the people who outlive you. It communicates your intentions, saving them time, effort, and money. Remember that Wills are not only for people who are getting older. You should write a Will once you have children or assets, even if they are of a modest value. 

Overall, a Will makes sure: 

  • You can select your estate trustee.
  • Your wishes will be followed.
  • Your property is distributed how you want.
  • Your children will be adequately cared for.
  • Your family won’t have to spend time applying to the court for an administrator, saving them the costs, time, stress, and heartache.

Who Can Make a Last Will and Testament?

Generally, if you are of legal age (usually eighteen years and above), you are believed to be of sound mind, and you can make a Will. 

In other words, it means you understand what a Will is, what your assets are, you know the people named in the Will, and what signing the document means. However, there could be exceptions to the age eligibility if you are in the military, married, or legally emancipated.


How to Write a Will Canada in 7 Steps


Step 1 (How to Write a Will): Decide Whether to Get Professional Help or Use a DIY Software Program

You can use an attorney or special online software to help you write your Will. Another option is to opt for a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) will. If you’re strongly in the middle class with a simple financial profile, you can probably write your Will through a legal online site without any issue. 

However, if you are worth millions or in the upper-middle class, hiring an estate attorney will be a good idea. It can cost you a few thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of your financial situation. 


Step 2 (How to Write a Will): Make a List of your Property

Before preparing your Will at all, make an inventory of all your property. That includes your bank accounts, real estate, investments, vehicles, jewelry, retirement plans, and other personal assets.

You can Will everything that belongs to you except the part of your family wealth going to your surviving spouse, if you are married or in a civil union.

If you have unpaid debts at the time of your death, they will be repaid with the assets from your estate. What is remaining of your property will be used to settle funeral charges and estate taxes (if needed). Your heirs will then divide the rest.


Step 3 (How to Write a Will): Decide What You’ll be Leaving & to Whom

Who you leave your assets and property is solely up to you. There is no obligation or definite allocation to follow. You can bequeath your property and assets to the people and causes that matter the most to you.

You can leave a universal legacy, that is, you leave your entire assets to one or more people. Something like: “I leave all of my property to my daughter, Jane.” Another option is to leave a part of your assets or a class of assets, (real estate, furniture, jewelry, etc.) to different people.

This is called legacy by universal title in legal terminology. For example, you could leave your real estate to your spouse, and your remaining property to your child.

Finally, you can leave certain property to specific persons. This is called a “legacy by particular” title. For instance, you can leave a vintage artwork to your niece, an amount of money to your spouse, or a sum to charity.


Step 4 (How to Write a Will): Appoint an Executor

The next step is appointing an executor who’ll act as your representative and manage and distribute your assets. Most people usually choose a close friend or family member, but you can also name your financial advisor or attorney to eliminate any potential problems. 

The most important thing is to choose someone honest, trustworthy, and reliable. You can appoint an alternate executor in case your first choice is not available. Closing an estate can be a daunting task, so you can compensate your executor if you deem it fit. 


Step 5 (How to Write a Will): Name a Guardian

If you have dependent or minor children, you should name a guardian to care for them if you are the last surviving parent or the surviving parent is not fit to care for them. This is very important. If you don’t name one, the court will appoint someone. 

Choose someone close to you and your children and be ready to take on the responsibilities of raising them until they turn eighteen. Before you take this decision, discuss it with your children and the potential guardian. Also, consider appointing an alternate guardian if something happens to your first choice.


Step 6 (How to Write a Will): Find Two Witnesses to Sign Your Will

After writing your Will, ask two people who are not beneficiaries in your will to serve as witnesses. Your witnesses must be over eighteen years old.  You’ll sign and date the Will in their presence and have them do the same. Have your Will notarized if your state requires it (e.g., Quebec)? Although, most states don’t.  

You might also decide to have your witnesses sign a “self-proving” affidavit. This is a statement that attests to the fact that the signature in the Will is yours.


Step 7(How to Write a Will): Store Your Will in a Secure Location

Now that you have your Will, keep it somewhere safe like a safe deposit box, and tell your executor the location. Don’t forget to update your Will after a major life change. A good way is to review your Will every 2 to 3 years.


What is a Simple Will vs. Complex Will vs. Living Will?

A simple will states who will inherit your assets and property after you die. A complex Will, on the other hand, is more complicated. It may include things like Testamentary Trusts and Special Disability Trust. A complex Will also gives the testator ( owner of the Will) more thorough ways to distribute their estate.

What if a living will? It is also known as physicians directive or advance directive. With this document, people can indicate what they want for end-of-life medical care if they cannot communicate their wishes. After death, this Will has no power.


3 Options for Writing a Simple Will

How to write a simple will? There are different ways you can make a simple will:

  1. You can write through an online will-maker platform. Choose one of the best online Will-making platforms, make your will, download your forms and print them out. You’ll also find instructions on how to make your Will legally acceptable in your province.
  2. Another option is to write your Will out by hand. This will is called a holographic will. As easy as this sounds, it is not the best because it is tough to prove in court.
  3. You can also use a do-it-yourself (DIY) will kit. DIY Will kits or templates provide more support and structure than a handwritten Will. However, these Will kits cost money, and printed templates can create the same issues as a handwritten will.

While simple wills provide adequate coverage for most people, you might need more if you have a complicated life situation or estate. Examples are if: 

  • You own property in several states.
  • You have major assets, and you want to cut down estate taxes.
  • You own a business or businesses.
  • You are divorced or remarried.
  • You have children from a past relationship or stepchildren.

If your situation is anything like the above, a better option would be to work with an estate attorney. That way, you can be sure that everything in your estate will be accounted for.


Do You Need a Lawyer to Write a Will?

Before preparing your own will, It is highly recommended that you consult with a lawyer first. There are two reasons why working with a lawyer is reasonable. One is for legal advice, and the other is for “estate planning techniques.” 

If your Will is a universal legacy, that is, it says something like “I leave everything to my wife,” you don’t need legal advice to prepare it. However, you can get one if you need reassurance that everything is right. Your lawyer can also help you use creative methods to reduce taxes or probate fees.

Writing your Will yourself without any help is cost-effective but before you decide to go that route, put in mind some of these possible pitfalls:

  • It is possible you don’t remember all aspects of your life.
  • If the person you appoint as your children’s guardian isn’t capable.
  • What if you are not able to keep your assets in order and can’t be distributed properly?

If you are sure that you will not make any mistakes or forget any information, writing your Will yourself will help you save money. Include these documents in your Will: 

  • Funeral wishes, if any.
  • Final letters to your loved ones.
  • Listing of assets.
  • Your financial power of attorney (who should handle your finances).
  • The actual Will.

The Difference Between a Will and a Power of Attorney (POA)

While a Will only takes effect after you die, a power of attorney (POA), on the other hand, is a way to plan for the handling of your affairs while you are still alive.

A power of attorney gives someone else the legal power to act for you and handle your financial and legal matters if you become physically or mentally unfit to act on your own. There are two types of powers of attorney (POA). One is for your health-related and personal care decisions, while the other is for your property.

On the other hand, a Will only states what you want to happen to your estate when you die. It can also contact instructions regarding your children’s support and health.


How Much Does it Cost to Write a Will?

Generally, according to Canadian Lawyer magazine, the cost for a simple Will starts at about $400. For a complex Will, it’s in the $800-$1,100 range, a Financial Power of Attorney is between $150-$200, while a Living Will costs between $100-$200.

Many lawyers like to have themselves named as the estate’s executor. That way, they’ll not only charge you legal fees at an hourly rate but also charge a percentage of the estate.

To avoid wasting money this way, it makes sense to appoint your close friend or family member as the Executor. They can hire professional help when it is needed.

So overall, you should pay your lawyer by the hour, not as a percentage of the estate. Following this can save your estate up to tens of thousands of dollars.


How to Write a Will in Ontario

To write a legally valid Will in Ontario, you must be at least eighteen years old and be of sound mind. Being of sound mind in this context means you suffer from no impairment that affects your capacity to understand what you are doing. 

If you are in Ontario, remember these guidelines when to write your Will according to Ontario laws:

  1. Decide what you want your Will to achieve. Do you want to leave money to charity? Or appoint a guardian for your minor children. Once you’ve considered all that should be covered, proceed to write the Will.
  2. Introduce the Will: In the first paragraph, write that the document is your last will and testament. Then identify yourself and your address. This is a must for your Will to be valid.
  3. Appoint an Executor: This is the person that will settle your estate. Also, don’t forget to list an alternate executor that will step in for you if your executor can no longer perform.
  4. Give State Powers: Provide your executor with the right to pay your debts to creditors.
  5. Include any Clause: Write a paragraph to indicate how you want your beneficiaries to divide the rest of your estate after your specific bequeaths. For, you may indicate that you wish to leave the rest of your estate to your children.
  6. Write a Conclusion: At the end of the document, mention that you are signing the Will. Indicate the number of pages contained in the Will and the date.
  7. Get two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the Will watch you sign and then sign the document. These witnesses must be present when you three sign the Will each.

Ontario law allows holographic (handwritten – unwitnessed Wills), but the condition is you have to write everything in your handwriting. Having a witness present may also help you to avoid anyone contesting the Will’s authenticity. However, there are no guarantees.


How to Write a Will in BC (British Columbia)

  1. Title the document this way “[Your Name]’s Last Will” and add a sentence under the title. The sentence can look like this: “On [date], I, [Your Name], at this moment write and intend this document to be my will. I revoke all other wills executed before this date.”
  2. Choose an executor and an alternative executor. 
  3. Indicate the specific items you are gifting to your beneficiaries. List a beneficiary’s name and then clearly state what you want to leave them. For instance, you could write: “To Sandra Clark, my niece, I leave my diamond ring, which you can find in my safety deposit box.”
  4. You may not be able to remember or find a specific recipient for all of your assets. So after you leave specific gifts, give away the rest. You can give everything to one person or split it. Something like: “I give the rest of my estate to my three children, to be divided equally among them.”
  5. Include other provisions like choosing a guardian for your minor children or other wishes.
  6. After completing the Will, take it to a notary in British Columbia together with your two witnesses. The requirement is that the witnesses must be at least nineteen years old. When you get to the notary, sign the will in the notary’s presence and instruct the witnesses to sign as well. Then Notarize the will.
  7. Go to a British Columbia Vital Statistics Records Office and register your Will. You’ll fill out a Wills Notice that explains that you wrote a will and describes where to find it.
  8. Keep your will somewhere safe and review it every few years to update it. If major changes like marriage, divorce, the start of a business, etc., occurs, you can write a new Will.

When Should You Change Your Will?

Your Will should be kept up to date. If any significant change like the following occurs, you will have to change your Will:

  • Marriage or Remarriage.
  • Separation or Divorce.
  • Adoption or Birth.
  • A spouse’s death.
  • The Death of an executor.

Some provinces have laws that will force you to change your Will. For example, getting married in some provinces automatically cancels your current Will. So if you pass away without making a new one, you will be treated as if you have none at all.


What Happens if You Die Without a Will?

There will be no way to prove your wishes if you don’t have a Will before you die. The law will dictate how your estate will be shared. These rules are in the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act.

An example is if you have a surviving spouse and no children, your entire estate goes to your spouse. But if you have a spouse and children, your spouse will get the first $300,000 value of your estate and half of the balance.

The other half of the balance will then be divided equally among your children. Other rules apply depending on your relatives alive at the time of your passing. If no relatives are found, the estate goes to the government.

In Quebec, the law does not recognize common-law partnerships. If one partner dies without a Will, the other gets nothing. So you must have a will for your common law partner to inherit something.


The Probate Process for a Simple Will

All wills, irrespective of how they’re made, must go through probate. Probate is the legal procedure of distributing your estate after you pass away. A court monitors the entire process to ensure your debts are settled, and your property goes to the correct people.

Having a Will makes the entire probate easier. First, your will executor will file a petition with the probate court and tender your will. Then the court will check to confirm that your will is witnessed and signed according to state law.

After the court accepts it, your will executor then carries out your wishes as you’ve stated in the will. They distribute your assets, pay outstanding taxes and debts, and close accounts as mentioned in the will. If you die without a will, the probate process will be a little more complicated. The court will choose an executor for you, and your assets will be shared according to state laws. 


FAQs: How to Write a Will


Final Thoughts on How to Write a Will

Writing a Will protects your loved ones and ensures your final wishes are adhered to. While thinking about your mortality is not fun, and you may be inclined to put it off. 

However, taking your marine to prepare a well-written Will to leave behind a record of how you want your assets to be allocated is important. It is essential to avoiding strife among your loved ones and saves them further stress and agony. So do not put it off any longer.

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