Do you even have one at all? Apparently, only 49% of Canadians have a will according to a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute. This means that the other 51% of Canadians would die intestate.

The Consequences

According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

Intestate: adj. not having made a will before one dies: He died intestate.

A will is a legal document that says what is to happen to a person’s property when they die.

If you die intestate, the result comes with serious consequences. Namely:

  • You haven’t chosen who your beneficiaries will be
  • You haven’t chosen who will administer or be the executor of your estate
  • You haven’t planned your estate to minimize taxes
  • You haven’t appointed a guardian for your children (as the case may be)

Essentially, if you die without a will, provincial legislation will govern your estate. These rules and regulations come with standard provisions that may be inappropriate for your personal needs. Having no named beneficiaries would more than likely cause potential problems and is very risky for the loved ones you leave behind. In addition to that, there has been no executor/administrator appointed, which in itself leads to costs, delays and frustration for all parties involved when an estate is being settled.

What is a Will?

Drawing up a will is a very important step everyone needs to take. It ensures that the transfer of assets goes to their named beneficiaries after they die. Having an up-to-date will gives them control over the assets that form their estate from the other side of the grave so to speak. Basically, without a will (dying intestate), a person has not specified where or to whom the contents (assets) of their estate go.

The Best Time to Prepare

As the old saying goes, “There’s no time like the present.” Statistics suggest that the older you are, the more likely you’ll be to have a will. In fact, 91% of Canadians over the age of 65 have a will. However, with people who are under 45, there’s a less than 20% chance that they’ll have a will.

There are often significant events that impel a person to think about getting a will:

  • marriage or entering into a common-law relationship
  • having children
  • starting a business
  • purchasing a significant asset such as a house or vacation property
  • separation or divorce, or even the death of a partner or significant other
  • ill health
  • grandchildren
  • inheritance

Making Your Will

There are many ways in which an individual can go about making their will. There are “will kits” available online or from bookstores. These are fine in general, but not if you have a complex set of estate issues. As they say, “You get what you pay for.” And when it comes to how you want to dispose of your estate after you die, knowing you’ve set up a proper legal will using a qualified lawyer who specializes in wills and estates may give you more peace of mind. A will set up by a lawyer or notary is less likely to be challenged.

A will is a complex document that needs to be worded very carefully. Considerations about the unique circumstances of each person’s estate ought to be of primary concern. A properly drafted will deals with issues that may not be included in an ‘off the shelf’ or online will, such as:

  • tax issues
  • trusts
  • charitable giving
  • executor’s compensation
  • special needs beneficiaries
  • second marriages
  • step-children and adopted children

Keep in mind that a will represents “your final say.” It’s important to get it right.

Safekeeping

You should keep your original will in a secure and, ideally, waterproof and fireproof location. A safety deposit box is not recommended because your executor would be unable to access it there.