Making a will
“My spouse and I each had a will, and that made all the difference because I didn’t have to fight with the family.”
A well-prepared will is a legal document that sets out who gets what from your estate. If you die without making a will, a court of law will appoint someone to handle your estate. This can take time, and it may mean that your wishes won’t be followed.
Making a will before illness or disability affects your energies or your mental ability is a way of making your wishes known after you’ve died. This can create peace of mind for yourself and for those who are important to you.
- You can leave what you want to friends or those that you consider to be your family.
- You can ensure that your partner or spouse takes ownership of a home that has been in your name only. (This can prevent an ex-spouse or another family member from occupying or selling the home instead.)
- If you have a partner but haven’t been filing income tax as a couple, a will may help them claim benefits, such as the CPP survivor’s pension. This can have a significant impact on their income. At the very least, it will save them time and energy when dealing with these matters at a time when they’re grieving your death.
Depending on your situation, your will can be simple or complex. If you own a business or are in a second marriage or blended family, you’ll need to give extra thought to making your will. Take time to list everything that you own and how you would want each to be given out. Some things you may need to consider include:
- What assets and possessions do you have?
- Are there things that you want to leave to specific people?
- Do you own anything with someone else (“jointly” or “in common”)?
- Have you named anyone as a beneficiary -- e.g., for life insurance, pension, registered savings account (RRSP/RRIF or TFSA)?
Give careful thought to this. Being your executor can be an important and demanding role since the person will be responsible for carrying out your wishes and paying any expenses, such as taxes or debts. Be sure to ask the person first and make sure that they understand what will be involved.
You can name more than one person as your executor, and you can also name an alternate or backup person. If you don’t know of anyone who can act in this role, you may want to name a lawyer instead; but be aware that payment for their services will come out of your estate.
If your situation isn’t complicated, you may be able to create a Will yourself. Each province and territory has its laws, so be sure to find out what you need to do.
If you’re unsure of your needs, you may be able to take advantage of a free or very low-cost legal consultation through the lawyer referral service available in most provinces or territories. If your situation is more complicated, it may be worth your time and money to have a lawyer or notary draw up your Will.
If you plan to consult with a lawyer, prepare your questions and gather as much information as you can ahead of time. Be sure to let the lawyer know about your personal and family situation. For example, who do you think of as part of your ‘family’? Who is and is not family for you? Do you have members of your biological family or an ex-partner/spouse who might oppose your wishes and make a claim against your estate?
If you made a Will some time ago, you might need to alter or replace it because of changes in your circumstances, such as:
- Marriage, separation, divorce, or re-marriage.
- Birth or adoption.
- Death of a spouse.
- Death of an executor.
- Moving to a different province or territory.
These events could cancel your Will. If you were to die without creating a new Will, this would be the same as your not having a Will at all. Checking your Will every year or two will help to make sure that it still reflects your wishes.
Keep your will somewhere where it will be safe and easy to find. If you’ve used a lawyer, they may keep the original and give you and your executor copies.
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