Sign up for our free monthly newsletter.
Thank you for signing up!
Helpful information, interesting stories, & more
You'll hear from us soon.

Canadians Don’t Need A Lawyer To Make A Legal Will

July 15, 2020
Fun fact: Making a Will without a lawyer can work for most Canadians!
Written By Alisha LiJuly 15, 2020

So, you’ve decided it’s time you made a Will. Congratulations 🎉! You are one big step closer to protecting your family and loved ones.

But, now comes the hard part: writing a Will. Many assume this involves trips to an estate planning lawyer’s office and shelling out the big bucks for legal advice. While it’s true using a lawyer to make a Will is an expensive and time-intensive process, it also begs the questions: “Do I really need a lawyer to write my Will or is there another way?”

Fortunately, there is! Many Canadians who don’t have complex situations can now make a Will online, without a lawyer and in the comfort of their own homes.

Can I make my own Will without a lawyer?

Absolutely! If you only need a basic Will, you don’t need the help of a lawyer. Online Will-writing services, like Epilogue, are often a great choice for simple, straightforward Wills.

That being said, some situations warrant a lawyer’s help. You will want to ask an estate planning lawyer for legal advice if you are in one of these situations:

  • You want to exclude a spouse or child from your Will
  • You are in a second marriage with children from a prior relationship
  • You have a family member with a disability who is receiving government benefits
  • You have assets like real estate outside of Canada
  • You want to do sophisticated tax planning

However, if you have more straightforward needs, a simple Will is likely all you need to ensure your cherished ones are taken care of.

Do I need a lawyer to notarize or validate my Will?

Wills generally do not need to be notarized or validated by a lawyer or notary. As long as you follow provincial laws around what makes Wills legally binding, you are good to go (more on that later).

How do I write a Will on my own?

Your Will is unique to every individual. It is a legal document expressing how you want to distribute your assets and who should care for your dependants. But the creation of any Will should follow a similar procedure.

1. Make sure you can legally write a Will

There aren’t a lot of requirements for you to be able to write a legally binding Will. When you create and sign your Will, you need to be:

  • The legal age to write a Will in your province
  • Mentally able to write a Will, known as being “of sound mind.” It means you understand what the Will is and what it will do. It also means you know – in a general sense – what kinds of assets you own and who you’re leaving your assets to.

2. Decide how you want to split your assets

A big chunk of your Will sets out how you want to distribute your assets when you die.

A common misconception of estate planning is that you have to list everything you own and assign every single thing to a specific person.

That’s not how Wills work—and what a nightmare it would be if it was! Imagine having to revise your Will every time you sold a piece of furniture or bought a car.

Instead, you should list only the things you want to give to specific people—called specific gifts. These can be items of monetary value, like an expensive watch or a sports car. They can also be things of sentimental value, like family photos or treasured letters.

The rest of your estate (everything you didn’t list as a specific gift) is dealt with all together as one pool of assets. This can include possessions, bank accounts, real estate, and anything else you may own. Your Will specifies how this pool of assets is shared between your loved ones.

3. Decide who you want to care for your children

One of the most important things parents can do to protect their children is plan who will take over as their guardian(s). Guardians are people who step in to care for your children in the devastating (but unlikely) event both you and your spouse die while your children are still minors.

When you think about who would be best suited to be your children’s guardian(s), there are a few questions to ask yourself.

Will the person or family be able to devote the time, energy, and money my children need?

As any parent knows all too well, children are a lot of work. They need love, care, attention, and lots of financial resources. Guardians must be able and willing to provide for all aspects of their needs if you and your spouse aren’t around.

Does the person live far away from where my children are now?

The impact of moving far away to be with their guardian can vary depending on how old your children are.

If your kids are older and have established lives and friends where they are, uprooting them can be very disruptive to their development. But if your kids are very young and haven’t become too attached to a particular place, they might not mind moving.

What are the guardian’s religious or spiritual convictions? What are their moral values and views on education?

You should also consider whether your children’s potential guardian shares your values and beliefs on how to raise kids.

Will they make the same decisions you would have made about your children’s religion? What about the type of schooling they receive? Should get lots of guidance or get free rein to make their own choices?

These are important details to think about when choosing a guardian.

Does your potential guardian know what you’re asking them to do and are they up to the task?

Always talk to your guardian to let them know you want them to care for your children if you and your spouse both die. Also, make sure they are willing and able to take on that role if necessary.

happy family

4. Decide whether you want to donate to charity

An often overlooked aspect of writing a Will is the opportunity to donate a part of your estate to charity.

If you’ve spent a good part of your life supporting a cause that’s close to your heart, you can continue to support it after you pass away as well. Or perhaps you never had the means to make a meaningful donation when you were alive. A Will is a wonderful opportunity to make a contribution as part of your legacy.

When you die, some of your assets may be sold, such as your home. When writing your Will, you can leave a portion of this money to the charities that mean the most to you.

5. Decide who you want to carry out your wishes

So, you’ve decided how to divide your estate and who will take care of your children. The next step is to figure out who’s responsible for making sure everything happens just as you want it to.

This person is your executor and everyone writing a Will has to name one.

Executors gather all your assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries and charities you chose. They will also use a part of your estate to pay off your debts (including any taxes you owe—yes, you have to pay taxes even in death!)

There’s a lot of work and financial know-how involved with executing someone’s Will. An executor has to deal with the courts, close your credit card accounts, and divide up all your assets. The best person to choose won’t just be someone you trust but also someone who has the time and financial aptitude to carry out your wishes.

If you think carrying executorship a two-person job, you can add a second executor. You can even decide to name a person as a backup executor in case your original executor can’t (or won’t) do the job. The point is, when you have a Will, you have more control over what happens with your estate when you’re no longer around to manage things.

6. Date, sign, and witness the Will

Now comes the easy part! When you’ve put all your final wishes into your Will, it’s ready to be printed and signed.

Making sure your Will is legal is pretty simple and doesn’t require the help of a lawyer or notary. In most provinces, all you have to do is:

  1. Print your Will (you need a physical, paper copy)
  2. Date and sign the Will in the presence of two witnesses (some people, like your spouse, are disqualified from witnessing)
  3. Have your witnesses sign the Will in the presence of you and each other

There are a few other things we recommend doing after you finish making your Will to make sure it’s legal, safe, and always up-to-date, including finding a safe place to store it and talking to your friends and family about your wishes.

And there you have it! A completely valid, legally-binding Will.

What should I never put into my Will?

A Will should be a comprehensive document covering all the assets you want to give away. But there are a handful of things that are usually not dealt with in a Will:

  • Jointly owned bank accounts and real estate
  • Life insurance policies
  • Registered accounts (RRSPs, RRIFs, TFSAs, etc.)
  • Gifts and money for pets
  • Funeral and burial wishes

Jointly owned accounts, properties, and businesses

If you jointly own a bank account or real estate, your relationship with your co-owners may have a feature called the “right of survivorship”. In these cases, when one co-owner dies, the other surviving co-owner automatically gets the deceased’s share of ownership.

This means when you die, you no longer own any part of that account of property—and you have no part of it to gift to others.

If you’re unsure about whether your jointly-owned bank accounts has a right of survivorship, you should check with your bank. For real estate, you should ask a lawyer to check the title and confirm whether the property is owned with a right of survivorship.

Life insurance & retirement plan policies

Most life insurance policies and registered accounts (like RRSPs, RRIFs, and TFSAs) already name your beneficiaries. When you die, the amounts associated with these policies or accounts automatically go to the designated beneficiaries.

If you are unsure whether you have named beneficiaries on these policies or accounts, you should check with your insurance company or financial institution.

Gifts and money for pets

For estate law purposes, pets are “things” or property. So you can’t leave them any items or money in your Will since they can’t legally own anything.

What you can do is leave a pet to someone who will take care of them, and give that person toys, items, food, and money to ensure your pet lives a happy and comfortable life if they outlive you.

cat and dog

Funeral and burial wishes

Do not leave the only copy of your funeral and burial wishes in your Will.

It can sometimes take people days, or even weeks, to locate an original Will after someone dies. Meanwhile, most funerals in Canada happen within a few days of a person’s death.

It’s possible those planning your funeral won’t find your Will in time to know how you wanted to say goodbye. So, if you want your favourite flowers or a special song played at your funeral or if you want to be buried with a meaningful memento, it’s best to document that separately and tell your executor what you want.

How can I get this done today?

Gone are the days where the only way to complete a legally binding Will was to hire an estate planning lawyer. Making a Will now is easier than ever, with online services like Epilogue. You can make a Will online in a matter of minutes without having to visit a lawyer’s office.

No matter how you choose to do it, make sure you have a legal Will in place to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Written By Alisha Li
Alisha is a Juris Doctor Candidate at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law (year of 2022.) Pre-pandemic, she was an avid traveler and wrote about it on her blog, Two Hairy Coos.