The first draft of your will is rarely your last one, and nor should it be.
With the passage of time, not only will you change, but the people around you will too. As relationships evolve, inevitably you feel differently about which of your beneficiaries is most deserving or in need, and your will should be updated to reflect those changes.
Some people may be tempted to take matters into their own hands for what they see as minor tweaks, but for amendments large or small, it’s always best to see an experienced lawyer who can talk you through your options.
Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act allows for the recognition of unwitnessed documents known as Holograph Wills – as long as they’re entirely handwritten and signed by the testators themselves.
However, handwritten wills are a recipe for estate litigation, since any beneficiary who feels hard done by will be able to easily raise suspicions about its execution – sparking a potentially costly and lengthy battle over your assets.
A lawyer can help you draft a formal amendment to an existing will – known as a “codicil” – but I find that it’s only rarely appropriate, if ever.
The best option, in my view, is for testators to sit down with their lawyer and explain the changes they would like to make. After talking you through the implications and accounting for any knock-on effects, an experienced professional can draw up an entirely fresh will that incorporates the desired amendments.
Even if you don’t have specific alterations in mind, it’s always a good idea to revisit your will every couple of years, just to make sure the executor and beneficiaries you originally named still make sense to you after some time has passed.
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.
Once you’ve got a new will in place, it’s a good idea to communicate with beneficiaries about the fresh terms of your estate, so there are no nasty surprises once it kicks in.
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