Having a will is important as it ensures that your money as well as your possessions will be left to the right person or people after you are gone. Without a will, everything you have worked for may end up in the hands of the government and your family and other close loved ones could end up with nothing. In the case of an unexpected death your wealth and other possessions will not go straight to your spouse; it may be divided up among your family, or it could be repossessed by the government, leaving your spouse short of money for organizing the funeral, and maintaining life on her own. Insurance doesn’t always cover everything your spouse and family needs, so it is a good idea to think ahead and make your own will so that you’re family has a bit of financial security for when that day eventually comes.
While being prepared and planning ahead is always good, many people don’t get started on their wills because they have themselves convinced that they can’t afford to and they still have lots of time left. First of all, you never know when that day will come for you. Even if you are perfectly healthy, sometimes unexpected things happen and it is better to be safe than sorry. It’s always best to prepare for the future. Secondly, making your will doesn’t have to be expensive. Most people prefer to get it done with an experienced attorney, but you can easily do it yourself if you know what you’re doing. Your wishes have to be respected once you “kick the bucket” if you will, so you may as well have something stating what you want done with all your wealth and possessions. You can get your will done with a professional, but it is also perfectly legal if you make one yourself.
So how do you make your own will?
Make sure you write your will legibly in blue pen, that way it’ll be obvious which is the original and which are photocopies for later on. The first thing you want to start off with is to write down your full name and address. It is important that your write your entire full name and your current address (this must include your city and postal code as well). You can put in any nicknames you are known by in brackets beside your name, but your full name must be on there. It is also important to mark down the date that you are writing your will and your social security number. You should write all this information at the very top of the page, before you write anything else. The next thing you have to do is to clearly state that you are mentally sound and knowing full well what you are doing. It is important to be clear about this or else your will may be considered that it is of no real value and as a result, be considered void.
Afterwards, state your civil status; either married, separated, divorced or single along with any pertinent names and dates. For example if you are separated, write down “I, (your full name here), am currently married to (your spouse’s name here) and have been separated for (amount of time you two have been separated here)”. Right after this statement, you should write down that you revoke all previous wills and/or testaments predating this present will. It is important for the law to know that this is the will you want them to adhere by when you pass on. The next thing to do is to appoint an Executor or a Personal Representative who will adhere to your wishes after your death. You want to pick a person who is responsible, reliable, honest and trustworthy for this position. It is also very important that you write down the person’s full first and last name along with what their relationship is to you. This way you can be sure that the right person will be your Executor. Make sure you have a backup person as an executor on the chance that your executor dies before you. For example, “Should my aforementioned executor die before me, I would like to appoint (backup executor here) as my executor.” Make sure to cover any compensation to your executor here.
Here comes the fun part; leaving all your assets and other personal belongings to certain individuals. There are two ways to go about doing this:
1) Leave your possessions to particular individuals without specifying these possessions or
2) Leave your possessions to particular individuals with specification of these possessions.
Number 1 is common is there is only one person or a few members of close family that the assets will be left to while number 2 is generally more appropriate if there are many people to leave possessions to. For example, if a husband wanted to leave everything to his wife, he would just state in his will “I leave all my assets, possessions and personal belongings to (wife’s first and last name), my wife (it is recommended that you put in the person’s relationship to you – my wife, my son, my mother-in-law etc) at the time of my death.” Make sure that if you are leaving all your assets and personal belongings to only one person, you have a back up person also, in case your heir dies before you. Include this clause in your will “In the event that my heir named above dies before me or survives me by less than thirty days, I leave all my assets to (back up person’s name and relationship to you here).”
If you leave your assets to more than one person, you can list particular items you wish to leave them, or you could just list a percentage of your money you wish to give them. This is entirely up to you. Here is a list of possible assets or possessions you may want to include in your will:
- Any investments with the bank such an RRSP, GIC, etc
- Any investment outside the bank such as physical commodities ex gold, oil
- Other investments such as stocks
- Any property or estate you may live in or rent out
- Any shares in a business or any business you may own
- Any bank accounts you may have or extra cash
- Anything else of monetary or sentimental value
When leaving behind these items to certain individuals, be very clear and specific on what you are leaving behind. Make sure you state clearly exactly how much money you are leaving to whom (and their relationship to you), the type of money (cash, bank account, property, other investments), the location of the money (name of the banking institution and full address etc), the City and the Province. Give as much information about what you are leaving behind (and to whom) as possible to ensure the right asset goes to the right person. You can also state that you want certain heirs to receive a certain amount of your estate when they reach a certain age. Again, state their full name and relationship to you as well as what age you would like them to receive part or all of your money. This is common for younger heirs and money is usually left to them when they reach the age of 18 or 21, but some may be longer for particular reasons.
If you have children under the age of 18, you must state clearly who you wish to be their future guardian. Include a backup guardian in case your guardian dies before you. Make sure you state clearly what to do with any outstanding debts you may have, as well as any savings. It is important to think ahead and write this in even if you don’t owe anything at the present moment. You never know when you’ll decide to borrow some money. Also, make sure you are clear about your funeral and any burial plans you may have. For example, if you want to be cremated, or if you want to be buried where you first proposed, make sure to include that in. It is also a good idea to set aside some money for your funeral and burial so that your family isn’t burdened with the financial aspect of losing a loved one on top of dealing with their grief. Include any money you have set aside for this here.
Once you are finished conducting your will, initial each page at the bottom and then sign the entire will at the very end. Make sure you write down the date on each page beside your initial and it is especially important to write it at the bottom beside your signature. Have a witness sign and print their name legibly below you. Keep your will in a safe place and only tell your Executor and backup executor where it is being held. You may want to give them an extra copy just in case. Any changes you want to make to your will in the future, write down on a separate sheet and include it in with your will; never write on your will once it is finished.
So that’s it for making your own will. Of course you can alter it anytime as you acquire more assets or as relationships fluctuate in your life.
The image used in this post is taken from Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net