‘Fill-in-the-blanks’ will kit ends up in court  

A Do-it-yourself will may save you some money now, but it will probably cost your beneficiaries later. 

The problem for testators who go it alone without the benefit of legal advice is that they are prone to the kinds of errors and omissions that end up needing litigation to sort out, eating into the value of the estate and depleting the assets available to their intended heirs in the process. 

After Ontario’s recent switch from a “strict compliance” to a “substantial compliance” regime, it’s easier than ever for heirs named in a faulty will to have the document validated by a judge. 

But sadly, the court process is not getting any less expensive or time-sapping, as the family of an Ontario woman recently discovered when she left behind an updated, unwitnessed “fill-in the-blanks” style document following her 2022 death. 

According to a decision in the case, the woman used the will kit to name an executor, who was instructed to split the estate assets equally between herself and a sister of the deceased.  

While the executor asked the court to validate the document, the application was opposed by the deceased’s brother, who was not named in the DIY will. The siblings had fallen out around the time the will kit was believed to have been put together, but had reconciled before the sister’s death, by which time they were getting on well enough that the brother was actually her primary caregiver.  

Ultimately, the judge sided with the executor and validated the fill-in-the-blanks kit, finding that that the deceased’s signature, the specificity of her instructions and additional notes found nearby all suggested that she intended the document to be considered her final will.  

In days gone by, will kits like the one at the heart of this case were a staple at stationers across the country, but the concept has since migrated online, where it is an equally bad idea in its digital form as it was in paper.  

Other common mistakes made by DIYers include the failure to ensure the document is properly signed and witnessed or the appointment of an inappropriate estate trustee. In some cases, the errors could even invalidate the whole document, resulting in intestacy.  

It’s always unpleasant to see beneficiaries fighting it out in litigation, but it’s particularly tragic when the entire affair is so unnecessary. The best way for testators to avoid the expense and delay of this kind of estate litigation is to hire an experienced lawyer who can ensure their will is not only properly executed, but also accurately reflects their wishes. 

In addition, a lawyer can help to minimize the tax burden on the estate and talk you through the role of executor to ensure you pick the right person for that crucial job. The more complicated and valuable your assets are, the more essential it is to obtain sound legal advice before finalizing an estate plan. 

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