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What You Need to Know about Making a Will

What You Need to Know about Making a Will

Karen G. Shin August 18, 2010


This article provides information only, not legal advice. If you have a legal problem or need legal advice, contact us at or call us at 604-294-0101.

What is a will?


A will is a document in which you explain what you want done with the assets that you own solely in your own name when you die. These assets typically consist of real estate, money, investments, and personal or household belongings that you own.

A will doesn’t deal with certain assets

A will generally doesn’t cover assets that you jointly own with another person, for example, a joint bank account or a house owned in joint tenancy. Also, a will may not apply to assets like life insurance or RRSPs, where you have already designated a beneficiary.


A will is only one part of an overall estate plan


There are opportunities to transfer assets to beneficiaries outside of a will, without tax and other cost consequences. This is called “estate planning” – discussed at the end of this script.

In a will, you name a person or company to be the “executor”


The executor gathers up the estate, pays your debts and divides what remains of your estate among the “beneficiaries,” the people named in your will to receive a share of your estate. Choose an executor you trust and who will likely still be alive when you die. He or she may be a trusted family member or friend; it helps if he or she is also a good book keeper and communicator. If you like, you can appoint more than one executor who can act together as co-executors. You should also appoint an alternate executor if the first executor isn’t able to act. If you have a complex estate or investments or need someone to take over the operation of a company, you should name a professional executor like a trust company.

If you have minor children, appoint a guardian in your will

There are two types of guardianship. The first type is a guardian to look after your children if they’re younger than 19 when you die. This will avoid confusion in your extended family as to who should care for your children if both you and the other parent die before they become adults. Make sure your appointed guardian agrees to be the guardian. It’s especially important to name a guardian if you’re a single parent – otherwise the court might appoint someone you would not want.

The second type of guardianship is guardianship of the estate. This means that the guardian can receive funds from your executor for the benefit of your child. If you’re a separated parent and the surviving parent will be looking after your child, but you want a different trusted person to be the one who decides what funds your child needs for educational or other necessary expenses, then be sure to name a guardian of the estate.

What happens if you don’t make a will?

Then your estate will be divided in a certain way according to the Estate Administration Act, and this division may not be what you would want. For more information, refer to the post “What Happens When You Die Without a Will?

It’s important to make a will properly


Although a will may seem simple, it’s really a complex legal document. To make an effective will requires a good understanding of property ownership rules and the law about wills. There are rules that must be followed, no matter how simple the will, otherwise the will may not be valid. And the words used must be chosen carefully so the will is clear and unambiguous.

Your will can be changed after you die

If your will doesn’t properly provide for your spouse (including a common-law spouse) or children, they can make a claim under the Wills Variation Act. And the BC Supreme Court has the power to change your will to give them a share of your estate. So if you’re thinking of leaving a spouse or child (even a self-sufficient adult child) out of your will, or giving them less than they might reasonably expect, be sure to consult with a lawyer about the situation.


You should hire a lawyer to help you

An experienced lawyer will know about the rules that apply to wills and can help with estate planning so as to save money for your beneficiaries. And you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that your will is properly drafted and valid, and that your estate will be paid out according to your wishes.

Be prepared before you meet with a lawyer.


It helps if you have the following information ready before you meet with your lawyer:

  • A list of everyone in your immediate family with their full names and contact information, their relationship to you and the ages of all your children, including stepchildren.
  • The names and addresses of any other people or organizations to whom you want to give gifts.

A list of all your assets, such as your home, car, investments and any personal items of significant value. It's important to describe how you own any property (for example, whether you own it alone or together with someone else).

     - A document that shows whose name is on the title of any real estate or house you own.

     - Details of any insurance policies you own, and, specifically, who the beneficiary is.
     - Details of any pensions, RRSPs or other investments, and the beneficiary of these.
     - Information about the structure of any business you operate (for example, a company or partnership).
     - Any separation agreements or court orders requiring you to make support payments or dealing with custody or guardianship of any minor children.
     - The person or company who you want to be the executor and guardian.

Also make sure to review your will after any change in your marital status

If you marry, your will is automatically revoked unless the will says that it was made in contemplation of your new marriage. If you divorce, the portions of your will that involve your ex-spouse may no longer be valid.

Where should you keep your will?

You should store your original will in a safety deposit box at your bank so that you have a permanent, safe and fireproof location. Your original will is what your executor will need to present to the Probate Registry in future, not a copy. It’s recommended that you keep other important documents in your safety deposit box too, so your executor has what he or she requires when the time comes.

© Copyright 1983-2008 Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia

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