Preparing a Will: 3 options, explained


Making a will is important. Knowing your options is the first step.

Unusual holographic will from the 1950s

A very unusual – but ultimately accepted as legal – will from Los Angeles, 1953.

Hardly anyone enjoys the prospect of preparing a will. But without one, you not only run the risk of having your estate distributed contrary to your wishes – you may be leaving your family and friends with a legal mess to clean up after you’re gone. Don’t think of a will as something ‘morbid’; think of it as an administrative favour you can do for the people you care about most.

When it comes to wills, you have 3 choices: A holographic will, a do-it-yourself will kit, or a professionally drafted will. All three, properly executed, are legal, but it’s important to understand the advantages (and disadvantages) of each option.

Holographic Wills

A Holographic Will is a will which is written entirely in your own hand. It’s inexpensive (all you need is a piece of paper, a pen, and legible handwriting), and doesn’t require witnesses or a notary public in order to be valid. However, it does have a number of potential disadvantages: Your intentions may not be expressed as clearly to others; the organization of the will may dispose of all your property in one fell swoop and leave nothing to others as you had intended; if your will is stored at the bottom of a desk drawer, it may be difficult to locate or probate; and without witnesses, your capacity to make a will may be challenged.

DIY Will Kits

Will kits, sold online (or in stationery stores) can be an attractive, low-cost solution. Most provide an assortment pre-written words/clauses, and all you have to do is fill in the blanks to itemize property, heirs, etc. This can be a good option for uncomplicated estates, but will kits have some caveats: It’s up to you to ensure that the will has been properly executed and appropriately witnessed; that you have included the necessary details; and that it’s stored in a place where it will be easily found when needed.It may be difficult to find the witnesses to guarantee their signatures for probate.

Professionally-Drafted Wills

A professionally-prepared will – one drafted and executed by a lawyer – is the most expensive of the three options.  However, you may find that the cost is less than you think (many lawyers prepare wills for a set small fee rather than a large hourly retainer), while the advantages are significant.  Having a lawyer prepare your will means you’ll get legal counsel, tax assistance, and probate fee-reducing advice; your will is stored at the lawyer’s office in a fire-proof safe; and lawyers are backed by errors and omissions insurance.  This protection is particularly valuable for people whose property includes real estate (such as the family home), investments/RRSPs,  and spouses and children or grandchildren as heirs.


This is not intended as legal advice. Please consult a professional licensed in Ontario to provide legal advice as specific facts may affect your particular circumstances.


April is Make-A-Will Month!

It’s not as hard as you think

I have to be honest: I’ve been a lawyer for a long time now, and I’ve always thought that November, not April, was the ‘make-a-will month’. But it doesn’t really matter which month it is, as long as it gets people thinking about their own will and estate planning.

The survey results below specify Americans, but the stats for Canadians wouldn’t be much different, I suspect:  Most people haven’t drawn up a proper will, and in most cases it’s simply because they don’t consider it a big priority.

You may think you don’t have a lot of assets or property to distribute in the case of your death, but the McAfee data quoted at the bottom is very interesting:  If your digital assets alone are worth $55k, isn’t it possible you have more reasons to consider a will than you thought?