More than half of Canadians don’t have a will, and if you’re in that majority, it’s time to prioritize creating this vital document. In honour of November being Make a Will month, we want to help you understand why you need a will, and what happens if you die without one.

What is a will and why is it important to have one?

A will is a legal document that dictates how your estate will be distributed following your death, as well as who will care for any minor children you have. Your will can also include if you would like to donate any of your estate to your favourite charity, and any details regarding your funeral arrangements. Even if your estate doesn’t contain any significant assets like property or a large amount of money, having a will makes administering your estate easier because it contains a plan of distribution that assures your wishes will be followed.

Why everyone needs a will (and what happens if you die without one)

You establish who will take care of your children: A verbal agreement with your sibling or your best friend isn’t enough to award them custody of your dependants if anything happens to you. If it’s not stated in a legal will, a court may decide who will take care of your children.

You determine how your assets will be distributed: Without a will in place, you will have no say in how your assets are divided. Instead, the government takes over and the Succession Law Reform Act comes into play. Under the Act, if you have a spouse and children, the first $200,000 of your assets will be given to your spouse. If your estate is worth more than $200,000, the additional amount will be divided equally among your children – but your spouse is still entitled to one-third of that remainder. If you have children but no spouse, your estate will be divided equally among your children. If you have no spouse or children, your assets will be divided between your parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and any other next of kin. If no known next of kin can be found, then your entire estate will be handed over to the government.

You decide who will be your executor: If you don’t have a will, your assets will be frozen until the court appoints someone (most likely your closest relative) to be your personal representative. This means that your family won’t be able to access your money to cover your funeral expenses, and your executor may end up being someone you would not trust to manage your affairs.

Writing a will isn’t overly time-consuming. Dying without a will is for those you leave behind. Prioritize writing your will now to ensure that you have a say in what happens when you’re gone.

This article does not replace legal advice and is meant to be for information purposes only. Please consult us or any other legally trained professional.