Every adult needs a Will—full stop. However, the unfortunate reality is most Canadian adults haven’t put this essential document in place.
A valid Will is the only way to make sure your voice is heard, even after you’re gone. Completing your estate planning documents can also save your loved one’s time, money, and stress from having to make difficult decisions during a time of grief.
So, why are Canadians so unprepared for death? Many simply think they are too young or don’t have enough ‘stuff,’ while others know this is something they should do, but don’t want to spend a lot of money on a lawyer to make one. Here’s the thing: you don’t need a lawyer to create a legally-binding Will in Canada.
The majority of adults only need a basic Will. Luckily, there are online options available today that offer a safe, simple, and affordable alternative to seeing a lawyer.
Are online Wills safe?
Online Wills are safe, but, like anything, you still have to do your research. If you’re considering, make sure it:
- Protects your personal information using secure HTTPS protocol
- Stores data in Canadian data centres
- Uses experienced lawyers to create and vet their legal documents
- Has positive online reviews
- Offers ongoing customer support via phone, email, and live chat
Keep in mind that, while online Wills are a great solution for many people, they aren’t for everyone. The best way to explain who online wills are ideal for is to define who they are not suitable for.
Who should not make a Will online?
It’s always best for those with a more complicated situation to see a lawyer for their estate planning. More complicated situations include things like:
- You want to exclude a spouse or child from your Will
- Having children from multiple marriages.
- You have a child with a disability who is receiving government benefits.
- You want to do some sophisticated tax planning.
Who can make a Will online?
So, if your situation is more straightforward, who should consider creating their Will using an online service?
It comes down to what chapter of life you’re in. The best time to make a Will is during a significant life milestone like:
- Buying a new home
- Getting married
- Having a child
- Getting separated or divorced
- Getting a new pet
If you fall into one of the following groups, you should think about checking this giant to-do off your list using an online Will solution.
Buying or selling a home is a great time to make or update your Will. Having a valid Will in place is the only legal way to officially record your wishes regarding what happens to your estate after you pass away, including your house.
As a new homeowner, your home is likely the most valuable asset that makes up your estate (making it especially important to insure your home). If you don’t have a Will, provincial law dictates how your assets are distributed, and that includes your home. Of course, this might not necessarily be what you would have wanted.
What happens with your home after you die depends on how you own the property.
When you own a home by yourself, a Will is necessary so you can decide who will inherit your home (and its contents) when you die.
If you own your home with someone else there are two different ways you can legally hold your ownership. If you own your home as a tenant-in-common, only your portion of the house gets added to your estate. In this case, a Will becomes important as it lets you decide who inherits your interest in the home after you die. You may choose to leave your interest in the house to the other owner, or you can leave it to someone else.
The only scenario in which a Will isn’t essential is if you own your home with a partner as joint tenants. In this case, full ownership of the home is automatically passed to your partner.
Welcoming a new bundle of joy into the world is a magical time, but it can also be very stressful. With so many things to think about, writing your Will is possibly the last thing on your mind! But when you have a new child, you need to make sure to include them in your Will.
Fun fact: Does your Will include “per stirpes” language? If you include language in your Will to leave your estate to “your issue in equal shares per stripe”, it means that you don’t necessarily need to change your Will if you have more kids after you create your Will. If your Will does not include per stirpes language, you will likely need to update your Will each time you have a new child.
Appointing a guardian
As a parent, one of the most important reasons to make a Will is to appoint a legal guardian for your child in the event you and your partner pass away while they are still minors.
Appointing a legal guardian for your child(ren) is often the most challenging aspect of making a Will (and often why people put off doing it all together!) After all, it’s not easy to imagine anyone other than you taking care of your babies. You should be the one to decide who this person is, rather than let the court decide after you're gone.
When thinking about who to select as your child’s legal guardian, ask yourself some important questions, like:
- Does my child trust this person?
- Is this person mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared to handle the responsibility of raising my child?
- Where would my child live? Would my kids have to move far away from their school and friends?
Before completing your Will, always speak to the person you wish to have as your guardian to make sure they are up for the job and understand your wishes. Being named guardian isn’t the kind of thing that should come as a surprise to anyone!
In a long-term, committed relationship, most people assume that their partner will automatically inherit everything after they die. This isn’t always true. It depends on a handful of factors, like your marriage’s legal status, where you live, and if you have a Will.
- If you have a Will: your partner will inherit whatever you leave to them, regardless of your relationship’s legal status.
- If you die without a will (called dying “intestate”): the entitlement of your spouse will depend on the laws of your province. That ranges from a spouse getting everything, to less-than everything, or sometimes nothing (as in the case of common-law spouses in certain provinces).
You can learn more about how assets get distributed in various scenarios here.
Separation & Divorce
If you’re going through a separation, you should update your Will to reflect your current wishes. Since you’re still legally married, your spouse could stand to inherit the majority (if not all) of your estate if you pass away before your divorce is finalized.
What about common-law partners?
If you have a common-law partner, depending on the province where you live, a Will could be the only way for you to make sure they inherit your assets after you pass away.
In many provinces, like Ontario, common-law partners aren’t legally entitled to anything if their partner passes away. So, if one partner dies without a Will, their common-law partner won’t automatically inherit anything from their estate, even if they’ve been together for decades.
The situation gets even more complicated if there are kids involved. In that case, the kids would legally inherit everything—bypassing the common-law partner entirely.
When it comes to estate planning, pets are technically considered property (rude, amirite?). However, you can leave them to someone in your Will, called a pet guardian.
Since pets are property, you also can’t leave them money or gifts, but you can leave those things to their guardian—whether it’s a lump sum of money to help pay for vet bills or their favourite toy.
Sometimes pet owners predecease their pets - often with no plan in place. These pets can end up in shelters if there is no family remaining, or the family can’t take care of them. To help ensure a safe future for your favourite floof, make sure to have a plan in place for them with a valid Will.
Next steps: How can I get started?
If you’re ready to complete your Will online, it’s super easy to get started! With most solutions, you can complete the entire process and have a legal document in about 20 minutes without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.
Make sure to select a trustworthy online Will solution, and you’re good to go!
This is a guest post from our friends at Epilogue. Canada’s only online Will solution founded by two estate lawyers with over a decade of experience.