10 tips to help you write your will

10 Tips To Help You Write Your Will

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Wills and estate planning is a task that can feel overwhelming and daunting, often getting pushed to the back of our to-do lists. As a result, over 57% of Canadians don’t have an up to date will.

Your last will and testament (often simply referred to as a will) is a legal document that outlines your end of life wishes — this can include how to distribute your assets such as property, money, and care of minor children after you die. There is a common misconception that preparing a will is a complicated and difficult process. Fortunately, making a will easier and more straightforward than you might think. Here are 10 tips to help you write your will.

1. Discuss Your Wishes With Loved-Ones

End-of-life wishes can be a sensitive topic to discuss, but it’s important to have these conversations with a few of your close family and loved ones. The best way to avoid unanswered questions and disputes are to ensure you make your wishes known to your family. It’s also a great way for you to discuss their wishes so you’re informed when the time comes. You don’t have to share every detail in your will, but some common things to discuss include:

  • Do you have a will and where is it stored?
  • Who is your executor?
  • What are your funeral and burial wishes?

 2. Make A List Of Specific Gifts

There are many things to consider as you create your will and the distribution of your belongings is at the top of the list. Specific gifts, also known as bequests, are identifiable pieces of property or monetary amounts gifted to individuals upon your passing — common gifts include cash, jewelry, art, property, family heirlooms, or mementos with sentimental value. Anything that you do not list as a specific gift will become part of your residual estate. 

Before you start writing your will, take some time to create a list of valuables and items that you’d like to include in your will. It’s best to take some time to think this through as you may forget items if you try to think of them on the spot.

Once you’ve allocated any specific gifts, you don’t need to worry about listing out everything else you own. Your will covers your umbrella estate (everything you own, unless it’s owned jointly, or already has a named beneficiary) and distributes everything leftover based on who you’ve designated as a beneficiary of your residual estate.

3. Identify The Key People Involved
Before sitting down and writing your will, it’s essential to outline the list of people you’d like to fill the key roles related to your estate. This can include:

  • Custodians and guardians for your minor children
  • Executor and estate trustee
  • Attorneys for property and personal care

All these roles involve a large responsibility, so before formalizing your decisions in your will, you should take the time to speak with these individuals to ensure that they are familiar with your wishes and willing to accept the role. You should also consider backup individuals in the event your first choices are unable or unwilling to accept the responsibility when the time comes.

4. Decide on Funeral And Cemetery Plans

Writing your will is also a great time to explore what you’d like your funeral and cemetery wishes to be. Having your final plans in place will help alleviate stress for your loved ones and take away the uncertainty of what you would have wanted. The process of pre-planning can also help eliminate a future financial burden.

Whether you’re looking for a traditional ceremony or a more unique send-off, it’s important to document these plans for your family, so they aren’t left guessing what your wishes would be.  Final wishes can be documented as part of your pre-arrangements made with a funeral home.  You can also include all your funeral and cemetery end-of-life wishes in your will. If you choose to do this, you should let your loved ones know that this is where you’ve stored your plans, in case the will is not read until after the funeral. It’s best to record your wishes in a separate document that’s easily accessible to your family.

Keep in mind that funeral plans are not a legally-binding part of a will, but generally most families will follow the wishes you have outlined.

View our Guide to Planning Funeral and Cemetery Services here.

5. Choose A Will-Making Method That Works For You

In Canada, there are many ways to make a legal will and it’s important to choose a method that fits your unique life situation. It’s a common misconception that you need a lawyer for your will to be legal. In fact, what makes a will legally valid has nothing to do with whether you’ve consulted a lawyer.  

If you have a simple estate, it’s as simple as using an online platform, like Willful, where you can create a will at home in under 20 minutes. Other options include DIY Will Kits or Holographic Wills, as long as you’ve met the criteria for a will to be legally valid. If you have a more complex estate or require legal advice, there is always the option to visit a lawyer. The costs of making a will can vary depending on which method you choose.

6. Remember That You Can Always Make Changes

Whether it’s being stuck on choosing a guardian or uncertainty about their assets, it’s common to hear that indecisiveness results in people putting off making their will. Many individuals forget or don’t realize that they are able to make changes to their will. In fact, as your life changes, it’s important to keep your will up to date to make sure it reflects your current wishes.

This includes any time you go through a major life change like getting married (or divorced), having a child, adopting a pet, or buying a new home, you need to update your will. It’s generally a good idea to review your will at least once a year to make sure you’ve made any necessary changes. 

7. Don’t Forget Your Power of Attorney Documents

When thinking of estate planning, most people automatically think of wills; however, choosing a power of attorney is an important part of estate planning. By making a power of attorney document (also known as a living will or personal directive, depending on your province), you can designate someone to make decisions about your property, finances, personal life, and medical care in the event of an emergency if you are unable to do so yourself. This can include paying your bills, maintaining your property, or making decisions related to your healthcare. You can also outline your wishes within your documents.

Think of your power of attorney as a form of disability insurance (it takes care of you while you’re alive) and your will as a form of life insurance (it takes care of your loved ones after you pass away). 

8. Consider Leaving A Legacy

While a will is a great place to leave your assets to loved ones, many people do not realize you can also include a gift or donation to the charities you care about after you die (you also have the option to leave a percentage of your estate). Leaving a gift in your will known as legacy giving.

Legacy giving makes it possible to leave much larger gifts than otherwise possible and allows you to leave a lasting legacy even after you’ve passed away. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be wealthy to leave a legacy gift. You can leave as much or as little as you want - there is no gift too small to make an impact.

9. Set Aside Time To Focus and Create Your Will

When you’re finally ready to sit down and create your will, find a quiet place with limited distractions so you can avoid making any mistakes. Whether this is at home in your dining room or at a firm with a lawyer, make sure you’ve dedicated enough time to carefully draft your documents. Depending on the complexity of your estate, this process could take as little as 20 minutes to a couple of hours.

10. Make A Plan For Signing and Witnessing Your Documents

Once you’ve put pen to paper and documented all your wishes in a will, the final step is signing and witnessing your documents. For your will to be legal, it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses and they must sign to confirm they have witnessed your signature. Many people choose close friends and extended family as their witnesses, as witnesses cannot be a named executor or their spouse and cannot be a named beneficiary or their spouse.

Making a plan to gather your witnesses is key, as in Canada you must sign the document in wet ink at the very end of the will and store the will as a physical copy - this means the document cannot be signed digitally or stored online. (In the wake of COVID-19, some provinces have made virtual witnessing legal. It’s important to review the requirements in your province to ensure your document is legally binding).


Willful is an online estate planning platform that makes it affordable, easy, and convenient to create your legal will and power of attorney documents online in less than 20 minutes. Learn more about Willful here.


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