The Importance of Having a Will

The last few years have unfortunately seen a lot of death in our family.  Starting with my mother three years ago followed by both grandmothers and most recently my father-in-law, we have seen our fair share of death and the accompanying hassles that come along with it.  I have personally served as executor for both my mother and maternal grandmother (she was predeceased by both children) and have learned a few things about this whole process (for a process it is).

We were “lucky” in that all our loved ones who died had wills.  I can’t even fathom how difficult this process would have been without that.  However, many young families have not taken the time to write out and notarize a will, despite the very serious implications this could have should something go wrong.

What happens without a will?  It depends upon who dies and who’s left and where your province of residence is.  In BC (where I live), if you die without a will and you’re married with children (and the children belong to both your spouse and you), your spouse will receive the first $300,000 of your estate (of which your half of any part of the house belongs so it may not be usable cash, just property) then the remainder will be split equally between your spouse and your children (half to your spouse, half to be split between your children).  Your children’s share will be held in trust until they are 19 by a Public Guardian and Trustee; this will not be your spouse and they charge for their services (so the estate will be paying the Guardian and Trustee each year for their services).  If your spouse were to need the money for school or living, he/she would have to apply to receive some of it and this can create financial hardship on a family, not to mention the lack of control for your spouse.

Without a will, you are relinquishing control over your assets and who cares for your children.  You see, what we often ignore is that it’s entirely possible that both parents die at the same time.  Car crashes, plane crashes, acts of nature can all claim multiple members of a family.  Without a will, your children are left at the mercy of the court.  The court will hold all assets for them in trust, the court will decide who will be the guardian for your child and that guardian will take it on without the benefit of guaranteed funds as they too will have to apply to the trust to pay for school and living expenses.

It’s worth noting that the courts will always try to take the child’s best interests into account, so one shouldn’t fear that your child is being thrown to the wolves, but the courts will favour immediate family for guardianship and Public Guardians and Trustees for finances and for many, that may not be ideal.  Many families may not want their parents or siblings taking guardianship of their child or want to pay a stranger to look after money that should be available to care for their children and only a will is a sure-fire way to ensure your wishes are respected.  (A quick note that you should never just name someone in your will, you should have a discussion with them about their willingness, how funds would be covered, and so on.)

Having a will also enables you to direct how your assets are used.  This means you can direct a certain portion to go towards the care of your child and the rest into a trust for them for when they hit whatever age you decide (it may be 19, you may want to wait until 25).  A will also enables you to pick who will manage your assets best, ensuring that money is there for your children when they need it most.  Although a court-appointed Trustee can’t screw up the money, they have enough going on that you can bet that one estate isn’t going to be on the top of their list.

One of the barriers to getting a will is often the cost.  Lawyers are expensive and although there are very good reasons to use a lawyer if you have either a large estate or a complicated one, the fact is that there are ways for you to do the will yourself if these situations don’t apply.  Check out any of the kits below (just click to read more) to help you get started on creating your will.  By the time you complete this and get it notarized, it should cost you less than $60 and for the peace of mind that brings, it may be the best $60 you spend.


will kit 1will kit 2will kit 3

By Tracy Cassels

June 01, 2015