Marriage no longer revokes a will in Ontario

Marriage may no longer revoke a will, but it’s still a great time to revisit your estate plan.

For a long time, Ontario has lagged behind much of the rest of the world by sticking with the old-fashioned rule that automatically invalidated the existing wills of either spouse when they married.  

But that will soon change after the recent passage of Bill 245 Queen’s Park, which officially repealed s. 16 of the Succession Law Reform Act. The repeal has yet to take effect, with implementation delayed until at least January 1, 2022.  

Attorney General Doug Downey cast the move as a protective measure for victims of predatory marriage, but I always thought it made some sense for both spouses to wipe their testamentary slates clean and start from fresh, particularly if their new partner had been previously married.

In the old days, the provision ensured that new spouses were protected by default in the event of intestacy, since if no new wills were ever made, a surviving spouse was guaranteed the first $350,000 from the estate. The remainder would then be divided between the spouse and any surviving children. 

Although intestacy is never really a desired outcome, new spouses in non-predatory second and third marriages will now have to be a little bit more proactive about preserving their own rights and those of any children that result from the new union. 

In any case, a major life event such as a wedding is the perfect time to either make your first will, or to revisit an existing on. Other landmark moments – think the birth of a child, divorce, or a major change in net worth – should also prompt a fresh look at your estate plan.

Anyone who has taken the time and effort to make a will ought to revisit their choices every few years, since the original decisions may no longer make sense – the personal situations of testators and beneficiaries, as well as the relationships between them, can change at any time.

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