DIY spells disaster when it comes to wills

Do-it-yourself wills almost always end up costing more in the long run than they save in the moment.

CTV News recently reported on a surge of interest in estate planning as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which has given us all a sobering reminder about our own mortality.

And while that development is welcome – getting a will in place is one of the most important things you will do in your lifetime – I worry that all those good intentions will go to waste if people don’t get the job done properly.

Will kits have long been a staple at stationers across the country, but they are just as bad an idea in their updated online versions as they were in paper form.

I can understand why people are tempted by the low-cost option, but what they don’t consider are the longer-term consequences of omissions, cut corners and mistakes that a competent lawyer would have caught before it was too late.

Many DIY wills end up in litigation – where legal costs eat into the value of the estate – and there are so many potential pitfalls when drafting a will that a little up-front legal advice quickly pays for itself.

In addition to making sure your will accurately reflects your wishes, lawyers 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. Business owners may want to consider techniques such as a secondary will, which allows certain assets to pass straight to beneficiaries without the hassle and legal costs of probate.

Even when DIY will-makers manage to cover all the bases themselves, a simple error can invalidate the whole thing and result in an intestacy: I remember seeing a case where the testator’s homemade will was overturned in court because they had signed their name in the wrong line of the document.

In cases like those, testators lose control over the distribution of their assets. Instead, the strict rules of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act kick in, determining who gets what.

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.

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