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What is a will?

Wills are complicated legal documents that deal with your assets and how you want them distributed after your death.

You don’t have to leave your entire estate to one person; you can have it divided among several people. However, the process of how assets are to be divided is often a complex issue.

A will also allows you to name the person whom you want to deal with your estate. This person, also called an executor, trustee or personal representative, will divide your assets as per the instructions set out in the will.

A will usually doesn’t have legal effect until the person who made the will has passed on.

What should be included in a will?

Your entire estate which can include the following:

  • Bank accounts;
  • Real estate (a house or condominium or cottage you may own);
  • Money;
  • Investments;
  • Jewellery;
  • Furniture;
  • Cars;
  • And other property.

It’s very important to understand that a will shouldn’t just include physical property but also digital property has to be designated in a will. For instance, if you own a computer you should include that in your will.

Other digital assets that should be included are:

  • Your online accounts, which include but are not limited to; social media accounts, accounts set up for shopping purposes, gaming accounts and more;
  • Any and all electronically stored data;
  • Any hardware and software;
  • Any domain names that you own;
  • If you own intellectual property, such as copyrighted material it should be included.

Also very important is to leave instructions about the password to your digital accounts in a will. That is not to say you should leave the actual passwords to your digital accounts in the will, but instructions on where your loved ones can find them. Should you leave them your digital accounts but not the passwords themselves that could lead to trouble.

Depending on the province/territory in which you reside, if you have minor children, you can often designate a guardian for your minor children should you pass before your child becomes an adult. The court usually doesn’t have to follow your designation of a guardian but they will often take it into consideration before designating a guardian.

What makes a will legal?

To make a will legal, it has to be properly written, signed and witnessed. The person must also be of legal age and mentally fit to make a will.

There are also more formalities, rules and specific requirements in making a proper will. If you make a will improperly, the will may be declared invalid if it comes before the court and that may lead to your family being forced to get a lawyer and having to go to court.

Remember that a will is a legal document and you must observe all rules and requirements when making it or it may have no effect. It’s often best to consult with a lawyer when writing one’s will.

What happens if I die without a will?

If you die without a will, usually your closest relatives will share your estate. However, that often involves relatives having to hire a lawyer and going to court to clarify how your estate is to be divided, especially if your estate matters are complicated.

The law in regards to inheritance is provincial/territorial and those are the laws that guide how to deal with an estate if no will is left and often that leaves your loved ones to figure out how to deal with your estate.

If you are thinking about having a will written, or you want to have a will drawn up contact a Wills and Estates lawyer.

Read more:

Making a Will and Estate Planning British Columbia

What every older Canadian should know about: Having a will and making funeral plans