56% of Canadians don’t have a signed will. What makes people avoid this necessary estate-planning document? Is it the cost? Law firms typically charge $500 to $1000 for a basic will. Or, they just don’t have the time to get around to it. You have to find a lawyer, make an appointment during their business hours, make some decisions, and make another appointment to sign documents – sooo much trouble!
Perhaps you think only the super rich have to worry about an estate, and all you have is a house and bank accounts that are in joint names.
Regardless of the size of your estate (everything your own) everyone should have a will to ensure the distribution of your property after your death according to your wishes.
Are do-it-yourself or DIY wills a good alternative for you?
A handwritten will, called a holographic will, is a legal and binding document in most Canadian courts.
How do you do it?
- Write your name and address and the date on a piece of paper.
- Describe what is contained in your estate and be specific about who should inherit each item. You don’t have to list every little thing that your own. You could say “I leave the contents of my house and bank accounts to my daughter, Stephanie.”
- File your handwritten will in a safe place (your home, your heir’s home, office, etc.) It doesn’t have to be with a lawyer.
- Tell your heirs where you have filed it.
The will must be handwritten by the testator in it’s entirety – don’t type and print out a word document and don’t dictate to someone who has nicer handwriting.
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It does not need to be witnessed.
Take note that handwritten wills are accepted in Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
They are not accepted in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
DIY Will kits
Another alternative is to prepare your will with one of the many computer programs available or pre-printed forms that you can pick up at most retail stores. A DIY will kit is inexpensive and can be purchased for under $20.
A will kit is usually a simple basic template that you fill out. The main problem is that the “one-size-fits-all” limited approach may not accommodate your needs and may not include crucial information to help you make decisions.
Online will preparation
Online will preparation sites such as www.legalwills.ca use a question and answer wizard similar to the tax preparation software we’re used to.
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It allows people to think about all the common questions that form the basis of a comprehensive will, such as specifying guardianship and survivorship should both spouses and children die at the same time.
Online help is available and there is the option of having the completed will reviewed by a legal professional who can check it for completeness and accuracy.
Costs range from $34.95 for a basic will to $69 to have it reviewed by one of their lawyers.
Retail giant Walmart Canada has introduced legal services, provided by the firm Axess Law, at select locations in Toronto. They plan to roll out more locations in Ontario within the next two years, and across Canada within the next four years.
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Their claim is fast, convenient and affordable legal services. Naturally, the busiest times at existing store outposts are Saturday and Sunday and evenings between 5 and 8 pm.
A simple will, prepared by a lawyer but using proprietary software, costs just $99.
Do you think you would have a simple will? Do you plan to pass your wealth on to your spouse, followed by your children? In most cases a do-it-yourself will is probably better that no will at all.
There is a famous case (in legal circles) of Saskatchewan farmer, Cecil Harris, who carved his will into the bumper of the tractor he was pinned under. It was determined in court to be a valid holographic will.
However, if your will has vague wording, is badly drafted, or contains ambiguous or conflicting provisions it may be invalid. Trying to save money now could cause your heirs an expensive and problematic estate settlement.
Hiring a lawyer can be money well spent. At the very least a lawyer can explain the implications of your decisions.
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Do-it-yourself wills are definitely not appropriate for people with large or complex estates. People with property in other countries, complex business interests, the desire to forgive debts or disinherit a child or spouse, or unusual family situations should seek the advice of an experienced estate and trust lawyer.