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What Goes In My Will
Categories Will Basics

What Goes Into A Will?

Making a Will brings you one big step closer to protecting your family and loved ones. If you’re above the legal age in your province and mentally capable (“of sound mind”), you can (and should) make your Will (also known as a Last Will and Testament.) The legal age to make a Will varies between 16 and 19 depending on the province you’re in:

What goes into my Will?

A 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 dependents. But all Wills give you the ability to do the following things.

Distribute assets among beneficiaries

One of the main sections of your Will sets out how you want to distribute your assets when you die.

Your Will shouldn't include a detailed list of everything you own. You only need to list the few specific things (or amounts of money) you want to give to particular people or charities—these are called "specific gifts". In addition to cash gifts, other examples of specific gifts might include a car or a piece of jewelry. These can also be things of sentimental value, like family photos or treasured letters.

The rest of the estate (everything other than specific gifts) is dealt with together in bulk. A Will states how these remaining assets (the bulk of the estate) is divided. These assets often include bank accounts, investments, and real estate.

Appointment of a guardian for your minor children

One of the most important things parents can do is plan who will take over as the guardian(s) of their minor children. Guardians appointed in a Will are people who step in to care for your children in the devastating (but unlikely) event that your children have no other legal guardian.

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 and energy my children need?

As any parent knows all too well, children are a lot of work. They need love, care, attention, and financial support. Guardians must be able and willing to provide for all aspects of the children's needs. If the children are the beneficiaries of their parents' estates (which is usually the case), money from the estates may be available to help support the children's expenses.

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? Do they agree to take on the responsibility?

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.

Charitable gifts

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, many of your assets may be liquidated (meaning, they get turned into cash.) When writing your Will, you can leave a portion of this money to the charities that mean the most to you.

Appoint an Executor

An executor is a person you choose to wrap up your affairs and make sure the wishes in your Will are carried out.

Executors gather all your assets and distribute them to the beneficiaries and charities you choose. 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 administering 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 there isn't one person you think can do the job, you can name more than one executor in your Will. You can even decide to name a second 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.

Date, sign, and witness the Will to make it valid

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. 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 (your witnesses shouldn’t be beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries.)

  3. Have your witnesses sign the Will as well.

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 doesn't go in a 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 aren't usually included in a Will:

  • Jointly owned accounts, businesses, and properties

  • Life insurance policies

  • Registered plans like RRSPs and TFSAs

  • Gifts to your pets

  • Funeral and burial wishes

Joint assets

If you jointly own a bank account with someone, it may carry what's called a "right of survivorship". In these cases, when one co-owner dies, the other surviving co-owner automatically gets 100% of the ownership. The same is generally true for any business or real estate you own as a joint tenant.

This means when you die, you no longer own any part of that account or property—and it isn't dealt with in your Will.

Life insurance & registered plans

Your life insurance policies and registered plans like the RRSPs and TFSAs may already name designated beneficiaries. When you die, the proceeds from those policies and accounts go to your designated beneficiaries and are not dealt with under your Will.

Gifts to pets

For estate law purposes, pets are 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 (a.k.a. the property) to someone and give that person toys, items, food, and money to ensure your pet lives a happy and comfortable life if they outlive you.

Funeral and burial wishes

Whatever you do, 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 a good idea to document that separately and tell your loved ones about your wishes.

Final thought

To have a comprehensive Will that will protect your loved ones long after you’re gone, it’s important to know not only what does go in your Will, but also what doesn’t.

Make your Will today

Take care of your loved ones and give them peace of mind.
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