No better time than the present to make a will

Whether you’re old or young, rich or poor, now is the time to make a will.

That’s truer than ever in light of the current pandemic we are all facing, and according to this Canadian Press story reporting on a spike in interest in estate planning, many people have been spurred into action as a result.

While the COVID-19 crisis has caused some difficulties for testators and their lawyers trying to meet the legal requirements for a valid will while observing social distancing, the good news is that the provincial government has stepped in to help.

New regulations enacted under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act have dispensed with the need for the physical presence of witnesses to wills during the pandemic.

The temporary rules mean that wills can be legally valid when witnessed via audio-visual communication technology, as long as one of the two witnesses is a licensee of the Law Society of Ontario and the app used allows participants to see, hear and speak with each other in real time.

In more normal times, I can understand why people are unwilling to get started with a process that forces them to contemplate their own death, and I frequently hear excuses about how young they are or the fact that they don’t own enough assets.

But the truth is that you don’t actually need much personal property to make having a will worthwhile, and your loved ones will certainly thank you for having something in writing about your estate and its disposal, should the worst ever happen.

Even when their possessions are of more sentimental than monetary value, many people take comfort knowing that they are the ones controlling where the property ends up after they’re gone.

Otherwise, it’s essentially the government who decides, thanks to Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, which sets strict rules for the distribution of assets in cases where the deceased left no will.

Once you’ve taken the plunge and drafted a will, it’s a good idea to revisit your choices every few years, since the beneficiaries you named as a young adult may no longer make any sense after the passage of some time.

Major life events – think the birth of a child, marriage, divorce, or a major change in net worth – should also prompt a fresh look at your estate plan.

Reviewing your will is particularly urgent following a change in marital status. For a start, Ontario remains one of the few jurisdictions in which marriage automatically revokes any will that either spouse had in place before tying the knot – raising fresh risk of intestacy.

Under the SLRA, the deceased’s surviving spouse gets the first $200,000 from any estate, with the remainder divided between the spouse and any surviving children. When there is just one child, the assets are split equally with the spouse.

If there is more than one child, then the spouse gets one-third of the amount over $200,000,

and the remaining two-thirds are divided equally among all the children.

But the Act makes no provision for the individual circumstances of the deceased, which can lead to issues, especially if they had anything but a conventional family arrangement. Testators with common-law partners, estranged spouses or blended families can reduce the risk of an estate dispute by making sure they have an up-to-date will in place reflecting their wishes.

Disclaimer: The content on this web site is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this web site are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.