If you’ve taken my free Get Your Financial Life Right Challenge, then you know that getting a will and appointing a Power of Attorney is a significant part of having a complete financial plan. Sadly, it’s often an after-thought since it doesn’t seem as pressing as debt-repayment, budgeting or even investing for retirement.
But it is important and shouldn’t be pushed to the bottom of your financial to-do list, especially if you have loved ones you want to protect. And making a will isn’t complicated or time-consuming. Realistically, it can take you 20 minutes to only a few hours to get done.
Don’t know much about wills? Neither did I before I got mine done. Let me share with you some important stats and steps so you can cross it off your financial to-do list ASAP.
Most Canadians Don’t Have Wills and That’s Not Okay
I had an inkling that the majority of Canadians didn’t have wills, but the stats I found were pretty shocking.
According to a December 2017 poll by the Angus Reid Institute, 51% of Canadians don’t have a will. Looking at one province specifically, a survey by Willful found that 58% of BC residents don’t have a will, and 90% of millennials surveyed said they’ve also been putting it off.
This is not okay. I know in many financial books they tell you that if you’re young, don’t have any assets and/or dependents, then you don’t really need to worry about getting a will. For the most part, this is true. If you’re 22, still living at your parents and only have $500 in the bank, you may not need a will. But for the majority of Canadians, yes, a will is a must-have.
If you’re not sure if you do need a will, if any of the following apply to you, you need a will:
- You recently got married or remarried
- You’re in a common-law relationship
- You recently went through a divorce or common-law separation
- You have assets such as a home or multiple properties
- You have a child(ren) and/or other dependants
- You own valuable heirlooms such as art or jewelry
- You have assets that as a result of your death may cause tension among surviving family
- You own a business or investments
- You have a cause that really matters to you that you wish to donate to
As someone who has lost two grandparents in the past few years, I’ve seen first-hand how having a will can have a major positive impact on those left behind. Losing someone isn’t easy, but having a plan in place for how to move forward is one less burden to bear.
What Happens If You Die Without a Will
Most people I talk to assume that their partner or family will automatically inherit their assets if they die, but that’s actually not the case. Without having a will outlining your wishes, you’ll die intestate. That means the province or territory you live in will decide how to divide your assets and who will be the caregiver to your dependents. Not only can the whole process take months or years to conclude, do you really want the government to control where your assets go or decide who will look after your kids? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
What Getting a Traditional Will Looks Like
In 2016, after 3 full years of marriage, my husband and I finally got our act together and got wills. Since we didn’t know anyone in the city who had a will, instead of asking for a personal recommendation for an estate lawyer, I relied on my old friend Google. After a few hours of research, I found a boutique estate firm that had good reviews and reasonable rates.
I exchanged a few emails with our lawyer to discuss the process and cost, then my husband and I were sent documents to fill out the details for our individual wills. The final step in the process was to visit the firm’s office to review and sign all the documents making them official. In total, we probably spent a total of 2 hours to get everything done (though I did have to take time off work to visit the office since they were only open from 9 to 5).
Although the process was fairly easy, the cost…well that’s another story. Remember, this was back in 2016 so prices may have risen since then, but here’s how much it cost for us:
- One simple Last Will & Testament = $600+HST
- Mirrored Last Will & Testament for spouse = $300+HST
- Any complex provisions or additions = $250/hour
Our total cost came to $1,000+HST ($1,130), and I’m assuming the additional $100 may have been us getting Power of Attorney (POA) documentation for each of us. In any case, it cost us over $1,000 which is a significant amount of money. Moreover, if we want to make any additions or changes to our wills in the future, which we will need to do if say one of our executors dies, it will cost us at least $250/hour for that.
Depending on your financial situation, $1,000 for two wills and POAs may not seem that expensive. But the key thing to remember is that we got the simplest wills possible done. Basically, we were given templates to fill in via email, and those templates were pretty much exactly what we ended up signing and paying $1,000 for. We were told we could customize our wills if we liked, but any customization would cost an additional $250/hour.
Because of that, there are no details in our wills about funeral arrangements or giving specific assets to specific beneficiaries. Instead, it just outlines who our executors are, who would take care of our children if we have any, who would receive our assets, and who would get Power of Attorney in case we become incapacitated or unfit to make financial or health-related decisions on our own.
What Using Willful Looks Like
Now you know what the traditional route looks like, but what about a new way that promises to do the same thing, but completely online and for a fraction of the cost?
Then you may want to check out Willful.
How Does Willful Work?
Willful is online will-making software that guides you to make your own will, much like how tax software guides you to file your own tax return. It is very different than your typical Staples DIY will-making kit which just provides you with templates to fill out. This one guides you through each step of making a will, educates you about the will-making process, and offers support if you have any questions.
Also like tax software, Willful is great if your estate planning needs are simple. If your estate is complex and you also want legal advice, hire a professional.
Now, Willful is relatively new having launched in 2017. It is currently available in BC, Alberta and Ontario, and was developed with counsel from leading lawyers who have a combined 57 years of Estate Law experience. Considering 51% of Canadians don’t have a will, Willful is on a mission to help every Canadian make a will and I am all for it!
In terms of how the software works, it moves you through a series of step-by-step questions with the end result providing you with a completed will document. If you opt-in to the Premium package, you can also get a Power of Attorney and living will. At the end, you simply need to print and sign the document along with two qualified witnesses to make it a legal will. That’s it!
Is a Willful Will Legally Valid?
This is the most popular question I get asked about Willful: “Is a Willful will legally valid?” You often hear of wills being contested in the news, and that’s a legitimate concern you should have.
But there’s a difference between writing a will on a napkin, or making a secret will and not having anyone witness it, and using Willful to make your will.
You see, Canadian law and government regulations do not require you to create your will with a lawyer or notary public. What Canadian law does require for your will to be valid is the following:
- You must be 18 years or older
- You must be of sound mind when writing your will
- It must be written down on paper
- Two witnesses must witness and sign your will
- The two witnesses cannot benefit from your will (they cannot be paid or inherit anything from your estate)
- The two witnesses must be with you together in the same room when they each sign your will
- You must sign your will
Moreover, Willful has a detailed instruction page for each document (will, Power of Attorney, living will) when you print them to it easy to know who can/cannot sign them according to who was named in those documents.
That all being said, as I mentioned before and Willful explains visibly on their website, if you need legal advice or have complex estate planning needs, hire a lawyer. Willful doesn’t provide legal advice and is not a law firm.
Is It More Likely for a Will to Be Contested If Not Done by a Lawyer?
This is another question I saw floating around the Internet and it’s a hard one to answer. In my personal opinion, no. If your will is being contested after you die, it’s most likely because of one of these reasons (as outlined on McLarty Wolf Litigation Lawyers’ website):
- You believe the will is invalid because it wasn’t signed and/or witnessed correctly
- You believe the will is invalid because the will-maker was not mentally capable of executing a will
- You believe the will was the product of undue influence exercised by some other person over the will-maker
- You believe the contents of the will fails to make adequate provision for certain family members and as such is liable to be varied by the Court
As you can plainly see, these reasons for contesting a will can happen whether you used a lawyer to draft your will or use a DIY will-making software like Willful. In other words, your will is no less valid if you use Willful, and your will can still be contested even if you use a lawyer.
Willful vs. Lawyer: Which One’s Better?
After doing a deep dive into my own will and comparing it to Willful, in all honesty I’m a bit annoyed that I paid $1,000 for a will that’s not as comprehensive as what Willful’s software provides. With Willful, not only do you get free unlimited updates to your will, but you can also outline your resting place and funeral wishes, specify gifts for beneficiaries, donate assets to charity, and much more.
So, if I’m comparing the documents I got from my lawyer with what Willful provides, I’d have to say Willful provides more bang for your buck in terms of customization, ease-of-use and accessibility.
The important thing though is I have a will. If you don’t have one, I hope this post has inspired you to get it done NOW!
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