Is your will in need of being updated?

If you are putting together your annual list of New year’s resolutions, add a reviewof your will. It should be reviewed every three to five years, and you can use these points as a guide:

  • You do not have a will
  • Death of a beneficiary
  • Death of an executor
  • Death of a witness to your will
  • Birth of a child or grandchild
  • Children have reached the age of majority
  • Marriage or divorce
  • Sale of a business or significant asset
  • Change in how you want your estate distributed
  • Any change in the registration of your assets or in the designation of your registered plans
  • You have moved to another province
  • Existing will was not prepared by a notary or lawyer

The last point above is worth discussing in greater depth.  We are seeing more and more “do-it-yourself” will kits and, in our opinion, it is best to seek professional advice when creating a new will.

After a review of your will, you may find that only a small modification is needed.  If this is the case then it may be worth discussing with your lawyer/notary whether it is easier to add a codicil (versus writing a new will).   A codicil enables you to make changes or additions to your existing will, and is a legal amendment that is made on a separate sheet of paper which is added to your will.  Just like a new will, a codicil must be signed by you in the presence of two witnesses and by each witness as well.

A list of the full legal names of your intended beneficiaries, along with an abbreviated family tree, is useful so that your lawyer can refer to it and point out how provincial laws could affect your intended estate distribution.

Be sure to make note of any minors or persons who are incapable of handling their financial affairs. For charities, you can visit Canada Revenue Agency’s website to obtain the legal name and registration number of any charitable organization you wish to benefit. The status of the charity is also recorded.

An updated inventory of assets, including any interest that you may have in other estates, is useful. Sketch out the plan of how you wish to divide your estate, considering smaller amounts (legacies and specific bequests) as “coming off the top” followed by percentages of the balance (residue) to be distributed to your intended beneficiaries.  The percentages must add up to 100%.  It is useful to bring a copy of your present Will, even if you consider it to be sadly out of date, to the meeting.

Now that you have updated your will, we recommend that you shred the old versions and have your new will registered with Vital Statistics.  In order to register your will, a Wills Notice form must be submitted (either by regular mail or in person at a Vital Statistics office).

The following is some information from the Vital Statistics Agency website:

  • A Wills Notice identifies that a will has been registered and describes the person who has made the will, where the will is located and the date of the will.
  • To be eligible to file a Wills Notice you must be over the age of 19 years, or under the age of 19 and married, or under the age of 19 and in the Canadian Forces on active duty.
  • A completed Wills Notice Form (available at any Vital Statistics Agency office or ServiceBC office) must be submitted with the appropriate fee, currently $17.

If your will is in a safety deposit box at your bank, then the Wills Notice would state the bank’s name, address, and safety deposit box.  If your will is stored in a filing cabinet in your home, then the Wills Notice would have your home address and filing cabinet as the location.

Lawyers/notaries have often stored wills for the clients, so the firm’s  name and address would be stated on the Wills Notice.  Lawyers often change firms it is essential you trace the location.

Some lawyers and notaries have begun charging an annual fee to maintain the storage of your will.  In many cases, people are better off avoiding this fee by picking their will up, opening a small safety deposit box and filing another Wills Notice.  A safety deposit box is about $40 a year and is tax deductible.

If you update your will, or move your will, it is important to file another Wills Notice (and pay another $17) to update who has made the will, where the will is located and the date of the will.

Many unintended consequences can occur if your will is not up to date and these can cause much grief to the beneficiaries who are left behind.