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What Are The Benefits Of Writing A Will? 

Can’t I Just Tell People What I Want? In short, no. If you’re an adult, you need a Will.

Written By Alisha Li
July 10, 2020

Many Canadians seem to share the view that making a Will just isn’t something they have to do, or that it can wait. Does this sound familiar to you?

Maybe you believe that you don’t have enough assets to require a Will, or that it’s not necessary since you don’t have kids. Or perhaps you simply already know who you want to give your assets to and told them about it over a glass of wine.

The reality is that every adult needs a Will—regardless of marital status, financial wealth, or whether or not you have children. A Will lets you formally document how you want your affairs carried out when you pass away. And having a Will in place can end up saving your loved ones a whole lot of time, money, and frustration down the road. 

This article will walk you through what a Will is, the reasons you need to have one, and what you should (and shouldn’t) include in your Will. 

What is a Will? 

A Will is a legal document that tells your loved ones how you want to distribute your assets after you die. If you are a parent to minor children, it also lets you say who you want to care for them if you pass away before they reach the age of majority (which varies depending on the province). It’s important to have a Will so you get to choose who gets what, and it’s not left up to the government or interpretation.

Why should I write a Will? 

We get it; you’re busy. You have a million things to do, and planning for your death isn’t really top-of-mind. But spending a few hours now to prepare for the future will pay off in spades for your loved ones down the road. 

There are a bunch of excellent reasons to make your Wil sooner rather than later. Here are our top four.

You get to decide how your assets are split

If you don’t have a Will, it’s called dying intestate (pronounced in-TES-tate.) This means your estate gets distributed according to strict provincial laws, which might not be what you would have wanted. 

For example, if you have a common-law spouse, you might want to give them a big piece—or the whole—of your estate if you pass away before they do. However, some people are shocked to learn that, in some provinces (like Ontario), your common-law spouse has no estate rights. So, if you die without a Will in Ontario, your common-law spouse of 40 years could get nothing, even if you raised a family together!

You get to decide who will care for your children

Most parents with minor children would want their spouse to take care of them if they couldn’t —and that’s the default if you pass away before your spouse. 

But things get complicated if your spouse dies before you do, or in the unimaginable event that you pass away at the same time, known as a ‘common disaster.’ 

Most parents with minor children would want their spouse to take care of them if they couldn’t —and that’s the default if you pass away before your spouse. 

But things get complicated if your spouse dies before you do, or in the unimaginable event that you pass away at the same time, known as a ‘common disaster.’ 

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You get to decide who will carry out your wishes

Naming an executor is one of the most important things you do in your Will. This person is someone you trust to carry out your final wishes and wrap up all your financial affairs. 

If you don’t name an executor, no one has the authority to deal with your estate until they apply to the courts. And without a Will, this can be a time-consuming and costly process

It’s also possible that multiple people want to be your executor. If you don’t clearly say who you want your executor to be, your loved ones could spend a lot of time arguing about who is best fit to carry out your wishes. 

You save your loved ones time and money

If you die without a Will, your family and friends are left to guess at how you wanted to distribute your estate. This often leads to disputes over who gets what. And in some cases, these arguments even end up in the courtroom. 

Another thing to consider is your estate needs to go through probate before anything else happens. Probate is how a Will is validated. Banks and financial institutions need to feel confident they are giving your money and assets to the right person/people. Probate gives your executor the authority to carry out your last wishes as laid out in your Will. Without a Will, the probate process takes much longer and can cause your family lots of headaches (and money!)  

What should I include in my Will? 

A Will is a legal document unique to each individual. However, there are a number of things all standard Wills include: 

Beneficiaries:

One of the most essential things your Will includes is a break down of how you want your assets distributed (as in, who gets what.)

This doesn’t include just your bank accounts and any properties you own, but also things like cars, furniture, jewelry, art, and any other meaningful items (like a special set of dishes or mementos). 

Guardian(s):

If you’re a parent, you need to choose who you want to take care of your children if you pass away before they become adults. This person is called a guardian. Sometimes, people choose more than one person, such as a couple. 

You should be very careful when choosing your guardian. It should be someone you really trust. Make sure to let your guardians know who they are—guardianship should never come as a shock since it’s such a huge responsibility. Always talk to your guardian(s) to make sure that they are willing and able to take on the role if they need to. 

Executor:

As mentioned before, one of the most important parts of any Will is naming an executor to carry out your last wishes. Your executor will be in charge of sorting out your finances, paying your debts, and distributing your estate the way you outlined in your Will. 

Your executor can even be in charge of taking care of your digital accounts. For example, if you want to turn your Facebook account into a memorial page, your executor will be the one to help you with that. 

As with guardians, your executor should not learn about their role after you pass away. When you draft your Will, make sure they are okay with taking on the responsibility of being your executor to avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road.

Gifts:

If you want to give specific items to specific people, you need to include them in your Will. People often use Wills to gift their loved ones with expensive things, such as cars or jewelry. But you can also choose to give items of sentimental value, like photo albums, childhood toys, or family heirlooms. 

What should I never put in my Will? 

Funeral & burial instructions: It can take weeks to find someone’s Will after they pass away. This isn’t such a big problem for asset distribution because bank accounts can wait, but funeral arrangements can’t. 

If you only put funeral instructions in your Will and it isn't found in time to arrange your funeral, your family is left scrambling to guess at how you would’ve wanted to be buried. And they might make a mistake that leaves them feeling guilty after it’s too late.

A better way to make sure you get the final arrangements you want is to share your wishes with your family. As an extra safeguard, we recommend creating a separate document stating your funeral and burial wishes.

Jointly owned property and bank accounts: If you own property as a joint tenant and pass away before your co-owner, that person automatically gets 100% of the property. The same goes for any money in jointly owned bank accounts. 

This is called the right of survivorship. It causes your ownership of any shared property to disappear when you die. 

Gifts for pets: Animals are legally incapable of owning property, which makes them pretty terrible gift recipients. 

A better way of seeing that Fido never has to part with his favourite chew toy is to gift that toy, and any of Fido’s other “belongings,” to the person you’d want to care for him. You can also leave some money for that person to pay for pet insurance, vet expenses, and any favourite treats. 

The bottom line

So now you know what a Will is and why it’s so important to have one. Whether you’re single and have no children, or have been married for 40 years, having a Will in place is not just good practice, it’s essential to protect you and your loved ones for the future. 

Having a Will gives you control over what happens when you’re gone, and lets you get back to what matters most.