Everyone should have a will to put everyone’s mind to rest


If you own anything, you need a will, expert says

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In an ongoing series, the Financial Post explores personal finance questions tied to life’s big milestones, from getting married to retirement.

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Death. It’s the subject everyone dreads discussing, thinking about and planning for, but it seems few Canadians do.

Only 55 per cent have a will, according to a recent poll of more than 1,500 people by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and only 18 per cent of those were between 18 and 34.

Yet a will is something young and old both need to consider, said Erin Bury, chief executive of Willful, an online will provider that recently partnered with CIBC to offer more affordable wills online, something that has been a major hurdle for many in the past.

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“They may want to visit a lawyer, but it’s not in the cards for them because of affordability,” she said. “They might think they’re too young to need a will and don’t have any assets. But a will is not just about distributing your assets.”

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If you own anything, you need a will, Carissa Lucreziano, vice-president of Financial Planning and Investment Advice at CIBC, said. Most people may think of getting a will during major life events, but she said this could mean your assets and wishes aren’t carried out should you pass away unexpectedly.

A will isn’t just for you, but for the wellbeing of your loved ones and peace of mind that your wishes are carried out

Carissa Lucreziano

“The right time is now,” she said. “Wills are an important part of planning for the future. A will isn’t just for you, but for the wellbeing of your loved ones and peace of mind that your wishes are carried out.”

It also means peace of mind that your family won’t be scrambling for information, something Bury and her husband and co-founder of Willful, Kevin Oulds, went through when his uncle suddenly passed away.

“His wife didn’t know where the life insurance was, what he wanted to be buried in,” Bury said. “If anything happened and (my husband) were to pass away, it would be leaving (me) to clean it up.”

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Many people don’t consider a will until marriage or children, yet the number of common-law and single Canadians is rising. Some 23 per cent are living under common law as of 2021, a 447 per cent increase from 1981, according to Statistics Canada.

But whether you’re single, common law, married or a parent, there are some things every Canadian should consider, Lucreziano said.

Even if you only have $4 to your name and no children or pets, you still want to have an executor when you’re gone

Erin Bury

“The key is to figure out how your assets should be distributed and to whom,” she said. “You need an estate representative, guardian for any kids or pets … the division of the estate and specific assets, a beneficiary … and to create a power of attorney for health, also known as a living will, and also one for property.”

Bury’s company goes beyond these basics, tackling items that have come up in the digital age as well as things that have become more popular in urban cities, everything from bikes and cars, to streaming subscriptions and closing social-media accounts.

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“Even if you only have $4 to your name and no children or pets, you still want to have an executor when you’re gone or the courts will appoint one,” Bury said. “And that’s a huge headache for your family.”

This is especially important for common-law couples in places such as Quebec where the government formula for distributing assets does not account for such relationships, she said. This would mean the other spouse does not automatically get anything and would instead have to apply to the courts.

The biggest hurdle when thinking of making a will is the time and cost it takes to create one. Bury said Canadians can expect to pay about $1,000 between the lawyer fees and power-of-attorney documents. Then expect to pay hundreds more every time you need to update it.

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It’s like TurboTax

Erin Bury

However, you may not need to see a lawyer if you don’t have a very complex situation. You can use an online service to create a basic will, update it for free and perhaps hire a lawyer later when your life becomes more complex.

“It’s like TurboTax,” Bury said. “I started with TurboTax when I was 22, but obviously now with a business I need an accountant. You can always create a Willful will and then eventually outgrow it.”

You can, of course, write a will on paper or online yourself, but this may not be legal in some provinces, Bury said. British Columbia recently legalized online wills, but other provinces and territories have yet to follow suit.

“We can get you 80 per cent of the way there,” she said, adding the company will then provide instructions on how to make your will legal. “The rest is up to them to see it through.”

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The important thing Bury wants people to remember is that they don’t have to tackle a will all at once. You can start off by chipping away at the big items such as assigning an executor and power of attorney, and then get into specifics down the line.

“I’m leaving my clothes to my sister, because she’s the same size as me,” she said. “I have pre-written things so that (my husband) would have a much easier time with social media.”

How often you update your will is up to you. Lucreziano recommends between three and five years, but Bury said it’s best to look over it every year in the beginning to make sure the information still applies, and make additions.

Either way, a will isn’t just for your peace of mind in knowing your wishes are carried out, but a major relief for your family.

“You’re providing breadcrumbs to your family so they don’t have to scramble around and find it themselves,” Bury said. “The more organized you can be, the more helpful it is to your family.

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