7 tips when writing your will

Everyone should have a proper will, which is a document that expresses your wishes for how your property will be distributed if you die. If you have minor children, a will also names the person or persons who will look after them. A will is different from a living will, power of attorney or personal directive, which spells out the level of medical treatment you want to receive before you die, and who has the authority to manage your legal and financial affairs.

Some people only get around to writing a will when they think of starting a family. They want to protect their spouse or partner, along with their kids. Truth is, though, even if you’re single a will is still important if you want your money and possessions to go to a particular relative, friend or charity.

Laws vary from province to province, so the number-one piece of advice: consider provincial legislation and regulations. A lawyer or other legal professional can help you navigate these requirements.

You want to do this right, because any mistakes or ambiguity in how you prepare your will could produce delays and disputes — definitely not the legacy you want to leave to a grieving family. Dying without a will can be even harder on your family. While provincial laws determine who gets what, the lack of an executor (see below), who is mandated to take charge of your estate and follow your wishes, can cause family rifts and further delays.

With all these caveats, 7 tips to get you started. And when in doubt, you can always seek professional advice:

  1. Name an executor. That’s the person (a “liquidator” in Quebec), named in your will, who will execute all your instructions. Choose carefully, naming someone you trust and who is willing to take on the responsibility. A good idea is to ask them before writing your will.
  2. Name a guardian for your underage children. If you have children, what if the unthinkable happens and both you and your spouse or partner die at the same time? Name a guardian you and your children trust to fulfil your wishes and that embodies your values.
  3. Be specific. You may have special wishes, such as a cash amount to a family member, friend or charity. Spell it out in your will to avoid confusion and disputes.
  4. Update regularly. Generally, revisit your will every few years, in case you need to revise.
  5. Will kits vs. professional advice. Yes, online and paper-based DIY will kits are widely available and it’s possible to write a will using one of these. However, it’s also possible to make costly errors. Seeking professional guidance (a lawyer in most provinces; a notary in Quebec and B.C.) can help ensure your heirs don’t experience any surprises.
  6. Sign the thing. Seems obvious but it bears repeating, especially if you write your own will. Additionally, there are legal requirements about signatures and witnesses. A legal professional can help you ensure your will is valid and meets all the requirements.
  7. Keep in a safe place. Wills in Canada are not registered, so the original has to be presented. Store your will in a safe place. Many people store them in a safety deposit box and keep a copy at home. Tell your executor where the original resides.

Note: This post is provided for information only and does not constitute legal advice.