Yes, You Need a Will

Even if you hold the opinion that when you are turned into ashes or compost, and you had no one to guide you on the path to the grave, and you believe that it simply won’t matter what transpires afterwards, you still should have a will.

According to recent surveys, approximately 50% of Canadians do not have a valid will. (Curiously, the percentage of lawyers who do not have a valid will is approximately the same as the general population.) It seems that there are groups who believe that a Will is a document to be written on one’s deathbed.

Other than making it a great deal easier for whoever is left when you “shuffle off this mortal coil” (Shakespeare), there are some other benefits that you may want to ponder.

For instance, since you likely have no relatives, or least ones that you would want to inherit your money, perhaps you would like to see it go to your favourite charity. Possibly you would like to set up an event or a fund in your name. Do you have a treasured item that one of your friends has admired that you would like to pass on to them? Don’t forget about your digital footprint; perhaps you would like to designate someone to delete your on-line accounts and erase your hard drive. What about making sure that your pets are cared for?

And finally, and this is my favourite, how about throwing a grand farewell party in memory of you for all of your friends. I’m sure that they will drink many a toast to you. No doubt if you think about it for a short while, you can add to this list.

You see, the downside of not having a will is that if you don’t have one, the government will make one for you after you have died. (In a future post I’ll share with you my personal experience in dealing with this matter. Stay tuned!) And if you have sufficient funds remaining after they have taken their fees, and hired lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers and other talent to assist them, they just may leave whatever is left to a niece or a nephew or a second cousin that you didn’t even know existed let alone ever sent you a Christmas card. And failing that they will simply park it in the government’s coffers.

You may decide to craft your own document by purchasing a kit for a few dollars or perhaps even by researching the subject at your local library. Nevertheless, this is such an important document that I believe that most people would want to consult with a lawyer who has experience in these matters. From my own experience I discovered that this whole subject can be tricky and results may vary significantly by jurisdiction. When a person dies without a valid will, it is referred to as “intestate” and matters become complicated. As an elderorphan, it is unlikely that there will be a host of people scrambling to become your Estate Trustee, a role which for the most part mirrors that of an Executor named in a will.

In the second paragraph above I used the adjective “valid” to describe a will. It is important to understand that even though you may think that you have a will, there are circumstances that might render it invalid. In most jurisdictions, if you were married after your will was executed, it immediately became invalid. Likewise if you were divorced, parts of your will might be considered invalid. Check it out!

So please invest a few dollars or at least some time and prepare a will. If you do a bit of research on the subject you will discover that in some provinces in Canada you can in fact create a handwritten will from your deathbed known as a holographic Will, and it will be legal if a number of conditions are met. There is a famous (and interesting) case that addresses this. On 8 June 1948 in Saskatchewan, Canada, a farmer named Cecil George Harris who had become trapped under his own tractor carved a will into the tractor’s fender. It read, “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo. Harris.” The fender was probated and stood as his will.

Oh, and one more anecdote…..

After the funeral, Mrs. Smith was talking with her best friend about the dearly departed. “You know, he never wanted to leave home, wanted to spend all his retirement years right here in town. He just refused to take me to Hawaii or even to take a cruise in the Mediterranean.”

“Oh, you poor dear,” said the friend, “and now you’ll never see those places.”

“I dunno,” smiled Mrs. Smith, “You know … where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

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  • Of course, being the devil’s advocate, I must warn of certain disadvantages of the Will.
    As my dear is very organized and insists we cross every T and dot every i, we have had our wills notarized for quite some time, even when we had naught but still wanted to help our loved ones to be more comfy with their loss.
    Trouble is, once you go down the path of Will writing, it never ends. Uh oh, I need to change something about my after party, or, now I’ve accumulated a new trinket that needs to be added, or maybe someone should be considered who was not previously.
    After getting the hang of it, generalizations become the norm and this keeps the yearly visit to the Notary missed occasionally. (;

    • Hi Herb:

      I don’t think that my situation would be unique among elder orphans. I don’t have a lot of candidates lined up to be the executor of my estate as humble as it is. And as for beneficiaries, there are a few people who I can count on for support and advice and I hope that I will be able to reward them somehow when I am gone. Beyond that, there are a number of worthy charities where whatever remains is destined to go.

      So I suppose that I am fortunate in that it is rare that that I would feel any need to change my will. Perhaps upon the death or drastic change in status of one of those human beneficiaries or a significant change in one of the charities I would be thinking of reworking the will or perhaps a codicil could deal with it.

      Perhaps I should be envious of your situation where people and treasures cycle through your life and your world.

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