What is a Last Will and Testament?

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There is a common misconception that estate planning is only necessary for wealthy people with large homes, fancy cars and expensive art collections. I’m here to debunk that myth by explaining why every adult needs a will (no matter how much money you have) and how to get one in place today. 

What is a Last Will and Testament

Who needs a last will and testament?

While it’s important for every adult to have a will, it becomes especially important once you reach one of the following key life stages:

  • You recently got married/remarried 
  • You are in a common-law relationship
  • You recently got divorced
  • You purchased a large asset (a home, car, property, etc.)
  • You recently had a child
  • You’ve started a business 
  • You recently adopted a pet

If one or more of the above situations apply to you, having a will in place helps to ensure your loved ones are protected in case anything happens to you. It also provides you with peace of mind knowing your wishes will be followed. 

What happens if I die without a will?

When a person dies without a will, they’re considered to have died “intestate”. While their estate isn’t handed over to the government, the government does apply provincial laws to distribute the estate to relatives and appoint an executor. The result may be very different from what the deceased would have wanted and can leave out important people such as common-law partners. This process can also involve long delays, expensive court fees and added stress for loved ones. 

How can I create a legal last will & testament?

In Canada, there are a few different ways you can create a legal will:

  • Holograph will: A will that is handwritten by you. This method is often not recommended since it’s easy to make errors or contradictions and leave out important information.
  • DIY will kits: These are one-size-fits-all template documents with fill-in-the-blank spaces. They don’t offer any customization or flexibility, but they are very affordable. 
  • Online wills: Platforms like Willful are an affordable option with more flexibility and customization than a DIY will kit. At Willful, they work with estate lawyers across Canada to create their legal content, and they ask you a number of questions about your unique life situation to create a customized legal will tailored to you. Think of it like TurboTax for estate planning. 
  • Estate lawyers: While most people have straightforward estates and don’t need a lawyer to create their will, for those who have complex estates or need personal legal advice, estate lawyers are your best option.

People are often surprised to learn that they don’t need a lawyer or notary to create a legal will. While there are nuances in provincial laws and language, this is what makes a will legal in Canada:

  • It must be in writing as a physical copy (you can’t store a will digitally)
  • You must be over the age of majority in your province and of sound mind
  • You must sign your will in the presence of two witnesses who do not benefit from your will
  • Your witnesses must also sign to confirm they witnessed your signature
  • The signatures must be at the very end of the will

How often should I update my will?

It’s a good practice to treat your will like your taxes, check in every year to make sure it’s up-to-date and make any necessary changes. You should also update your will as soon as you experience any major life, which might include:

  • Getting married or divorced
  • Having a child
  • Buying a home or property
  • Adopting a pet
  • A beneficiary passing away
  • Moving to a new province or country

Where should I store my will?

Store your will somewhere safe and notify your executor of its location. If you’re keeping your will at home, you should store it in a fireproof/waterproof box or bag. Keep it protected from moisture, direct sunlight or anything else that may deteriorate your documents.

Another option is a safety deposit box. It’s important to check with your bank to ensure your family or executor will have access to it when you pass away. If you don’t grant permission, your loved ones may have to jump through legal hoops and deal with long delays to try and get access to your will. 

It’s a good idea to register your will on CanadaWillRegistry.org to ensure your executor knows where it is – so if they forget, or you forget to tell them, your executor can easily perform a search to find out exactly where it’s stored. Willful customers enjoy free will registration on the Canada Will Registry with any Willful plan purchase.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you now know what is a last will and testament. The topic of mortality and making arrangements for your own passing can be uncomfortable. The good news is, it takes less than 20 minutes to get a will with Willful and the peace of mind you’ll feel knowing there’s a plan in place for your loved ones will be worth it. 

For more info on wills, read my full review of Willful here and use code MONEYWEHAVE15 for $15 off any plan on Willful.

What is a Last Will and Testament?

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi


  1. Samantha on September 5, 2020 at 3:40 PM

    Just wonder under AB law, is my house and all my bank accounts (they are all in my name only) will go to my husband even though my Will specify other beneficiary? I don’t have children but my husband has.

    • Barry.Choi on September 5, 2020 at 4:41 PM


      I’m not an estate lawyer, but from what I understand, if you have designated beneficiaries, then that’s who would get your assets.

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