Admittedly, up until recently, I had not given much thought to making a Will, let alone making multiple wills. Before beginning my legal career, the connotation of a Will to me was a daunting document one uses as they begin to foresee the ‘end’. It was a slightly profound and dark ideology, but it was rooted in my anecdotal experiences that most people I know did not draft a Will until later stages in life. Naturally, as I have grown older and have been fortunate enough to gain experience in Wills and Estates, my views have shifted.
Why have a Will?
For me, a Will is more than a prudent measure. It is a legal document that serves as an extension of yourself and a representation of you now and in the future. It affords comfort and peace of mind knowing that your affairs are properly cared for if something ever happens to you.
With a Will, you control who will receive your assets and property, as well as how it will be divided when you are gone. You also control who will be the designated individual or, legally speaking, the appointed executor who will ensure your wishes are carried out.
There are a multitude of ways you can decide to distribute your assets. For instance:
- You may provide that specific assets such as antiques or jewelry that meant the most to your children or friends be given to them;
- You may provide for certain legacies to be paid to a charity or transferred to beneficiaries who may need financial assistance the most; or
- If you have young children, you may appoint a guardian for them and also provide that your assets be held in trust for them until they are of age to properly manage it themselves.
These are all crucial considerations for anyone who has assets. However, even if you do not have assets or have not yet started a family, you will still need someone to manage your debt, taxes, and also arrange your funeral. Without plans in place, this could mean more work and stress for your loved ones at a difficult time. Importantly, a Will can always be amended as you progress through life and different milestones to account for new assets or family members.
Not having a Will can also present other significant obstacles. In Ontario, if you pass away without a Will this is called “intestacy” and your estate will be divided based on the Succession Law Reform Act. This is a more extensive and costly process, and may result in a distribution of your property that does not accurately reflect your intentions (i.e. some individuals may get more or less, or nothing from your estate).
In Ontario, a dual Will strategy is permitted. This allows you to create a general Will as well as a secondary Will to lower probate fees. A general Will that will be required to go through the court for probate could include assets such as a bank account or a house that is not jointly owned. On the other hand, the secondary Will can include assets such as shares in a private corporation and other assets that do not require the court Order and will not be subject to estate administration tax. Depending on your circumstances, having such multiple wills may be beneficial. It is best to discuss the appropriateness of this with your Wills and Estates lawyer.