Writing a Will without a Lawyer

Whether you are young, old, healthy, or sick, leaving a will is an important task that should be done by all individuals. Granted, it can be stressful to think about what should happen in the case of your death, whether sudden or expected. But leaving a valid will can give you peace of mind and unburden your loved ones who are sure to face legal complexities should you pass away without a will.

Contrary to common belief, writing a will does not necessarily require you to hire a lawyer. It’s true that there are some situations in which you may be required to work with a lawyer in order to prepare a will, but in many cases, it is possible to avoid hiring legal professionals and the price tags that come with the services that you could have easily done yourself. Cases which may need lawyers can be read about here.

If you do not fall into the category of needing a lawyer, writing your own legal will is fairly straightforward; you need to choose an executor and alternate executor, categorize your property, make decisions about how to distribute your property, and store the will in a safe place.

Many people, often couples, feel that it is a good idea to write a joint will – that is, a single document that states the wishes and intentions of two individuals. The intent of such a will is often to declare that each party would leave everything to the surviving partner, and in the event that both die in the same disaster, that everything would go to their children. This is usually a bad idea.

Joint wills can tie up property and assets for years, pending the death of the surviving partner. During those years, life may have changed so much that a new will would be appropriate, but it is extremely difficult for the surviving partner to revoke the previous will since the deceased would not be around to approve it. In many instances, the surviving partner will be stuck with the outdated will, and once-joint assets will be divided in ways that does not coincide with present wishes. Considering the negatives, there should be very few reasons to not create a separate will that properly reflects the wishes of both parties, and which can be amended (by creating and attaching codicils), at ease.

Everyone needs and should write a will for those who will be left behind. With the right information and good clarification, writing a will can be a task that is simpler than imagined. If it will provide emotional relief for both you and your loved ones, why not do it now?

About There are many publications and websites that claim to provide valid wills kits, but be advised: Due to the rather straightforward nature of making a will, it is easy to claim the kit’s validity when in fact it may be too simple and leave out many things. Write Your Legal Will in 3 Easy Steps provides comprehensive information about writing a will in Canada (and the US, respectively), and is available in our Web shop (laws can vary between countries; be sure to choose the correct kit for your situation). Written by a lawyer, these kits are completely legal and valid upon completion, and for simple estates it rids you of the need to hire a lawyer or a notary public.


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27 thoughts on “Writing a Will without a Lawyer

  1. If spouse dies and the remaining one wants someone taken off the joint will and writes a codicil to that affect does the remaining spouse need to have a witness sign it also.

  2. Several years ago I was told about a clause to include in a will so that the executor of the will has immediate access to the deceased's bank account. However I an able to locate or recall what that clause is. Would you be able to assist?

    1. We are unaware of such a \”short cut\” clause. Banks will normally want documentation both of the death of the person who wrote the will (death certificate) and to prove the executor's credentials (the will, appointing the executor). The risks for a bank not being cautious are considerable. The Editors

  3. Would a codocil (specifying that my old Ontario “Will without a Lawyer” made years ago in the province of Ontario) be enough to make IT legal here in BC now that I have move to Vancouver? Or will I have to do a new will here, in BC with witnesses from BC ?

    1. Assuming there are few changes to the content of the will, rewriting it here with those changes in place and getting two witnesses locally would be the better approach, A codicil is really only useful to retract and replace a single declaration in a will and even then a re-write replacing any prior wills is safer (less prone to misinterpretation or dispute). Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  4. My mom leaves in another country; she has a savings account in Canada and would like to prepare a will to leave the account proceeds to her nieces when she dies. What could she do to properly implement this will?

    1. She should be able to simply stipulate in the will that she leaves the proceeds of the (clearly identified) bank account to her (named) niece. If she wants added certainty, she could ask the bank if they have a preferred wording she should use. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

    1. The two witnesses to a will should be (a) adult – over the age of 18, and (b) individuals who are not beneficiaries of the will. Also, the will should be signed in front of the two witnesses who should then sign as witnesses. The witnesses only need to witness the signature and there is no reason fro them to see the content of the will.If you are a beneficiary of your wife's will, you should not be a witness.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  5. I have purchased the kit and have made out a seperate will for myself and my husband. We have left everything to each other in the case of one of our deaths. My question is. What if we both die at the same time. Is this where we both complete a codicil and put into it where we want our assets to go

    1. Gillian, a good question and one that is relevant for many people. The risk in a pair of wills in which each partner leaves everything to the other is that both partners could die at the same time in an accident and if there are no provisions for that in their wills, distribution of their estates could be determined by a probate court.So, yes, it would be best if each of you either adds a codicil indicating that if your partner dies before you or within a short period of time after you, then your estate should be distributed to . Provincial laws typical presume that if one spouse dies and then the other also dies within a few days (5 in BC), each has \”predeceased the other\” for legal purposes. The effect is that provisions leaving everything to the other partner may be eliminated. Re-writing the wills may be a better alternative than a codicil (something that is somewhat easily misinterpreted or misunderstood). In ether approach, your distribution clause would first indicate that your estate goes to your spouse if you die first, then a second clause would indicate what you want to have happen if you and your spouse die at substantially the same time. You might also want to consult a lawyer for the optimum wording, particularly if the joint value of the estate is high.Richard DayPublisher

  6. Is the 3rd Edition of Write Your Own Will by Tom Carter legal in BC? I know there have been some changes to the BC Wills law or will be soon

    1. Yes, the book and its instructions remain legal. Tom Carter also wrote an introduction to the new law in BC, which you can read here. The new law has however been repeatedly delayed (there are a number of issues, the primary one apparently being how the term \”spouse\” is handled in the new law) and has still not been put into law. When it does become law, the updates mechanism provided via the CD will allow access to any amended forms or instructions.We are expecting some changes in law regarding marriage and divorce in BC this month (March 2013) and those may pave the way for the new Wills, Estates and Succession Act to be passed into law.Richard DayPublisher

  7. My partner and I have been together for 3 1/2 years, this will be our second year claiming Common Law. My partner had his will made up long before he met me and all his estate is willed to the care of his elderly mother. In the course of our being together we would like to revise his will so that I can be included in part of the estate but we do not have the funds to hire a lawyer. Is there an inexpensive way we can have a clause put in place in his will to include me?

    1. You do not need a lawyer to rewrite a will. You can use a basic wills kit (such as the ones we sell, and write the distribution clause so that it indicates which part(s) of the estate goes to the mother and which part(s) to the spouse. Cash from the estate could be divided by specifying percentages to each beneficiary; physical assets such as a home are typically willed to the surviving spouse with a qualifier clause along the lines, \”if my spouse should predecease me, then …\” and another beneficiary is named. Richard DayPublisher

  8. i thinking of getting will how do i get started of doing it ? do i need lawyer and also iam married could i have my own will or do we have to do joint

    1. If your estate is simple (such as home, car, RRSP, savings), which is the case for most Canadians, you can write your own will without a lawyer. Your will can be separate from the one your spouse might write; there is no requirement for joint wills.You could use the Book-and-CD, \”Write Your Legal Will in 3 Easy Steps\” or the \”Complete Canadian Wills Kit\” CD or download kit, all of which are available in our online shop. Richard DayPublisher

  9. I bought the forms only, and did not realize that. How can I now complete the will.
    I don't understand how to write my address in. Is it city first and then physical address followed by province? Can you please advise

  10. We sell the paper forms as a convenience for those who wish to update their will on paper, not a computer, which is why the package recommends that it be used together with one of our books or kits which explain the steps to writing a will which will stand up to the probate procedure. Richard Day

    1. A legal will should really be viewed as a document for distributing assets, so while religious language is not forbidden, it may not be the most appropriate place for it, What some people do is attach a separate document, usually written like a letter to their family members, in which they express their wishes for those members' future and their own beliefs. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Presshttp://www.self-counsel.com

  11. Me and my son purchased a flat jointly. If my son wishes to disown his share/claim and wish to enjoy the property by me, what should be the content of the will/letter of authorisation?

    1. We understand you to be saying:You and your son jointly purchased a property.Your son now wants to relinquish his claim to his share of the property.Your son either (a) wants you to enjoy the property or (b) wants you to enjoy it (this is not clear to us). If your son wants to remove his name so that you are the sole registered owner of the property, the cleanest approach would be for him to sell his part to you (for, say $1). Doing that through a standard sale and purchase agreement would ensure the title is properly registered to your name alone and would avoid any future dispute. The editors

  12. I have a bit of a complicated question, I live in Alberta with my two children am have joint custody with their fathers. I have re-married and my husband is from turkey although we are currently awaiting immigration and he currently does not live in the same residence or country for that matter. I wanted to leave my children together to my parents along with my estate life insurance etc, can I do that? And what stipulations should I include?

    1. This is a complicated question! Assuming the children are minors it is possible to stipulate in a will that you want their guardians to be your parents, but it is entirely possible that the children's fathers would challenge this, and also possible that your new husband would, too. Our recommendation is that you seek the help of an estate lawyer and not try to do this by yourself.Richard Day

  13. I have a couple of questions and hope you can help me.
    1) My wife and I already have a will made out but I needed to add another beneficiary(Child), which means the percentage of all the others will change by adding the additional person. Should I write a new one or just use a codicils to amend?
    2) Is it a good idea to have the wills at home in a safe place or should it be in a safety deposit box?

    1. Those are fairly simple to answer:Re-write the will. Multiple changes in a will are easy to contest and while the person contesting them may lose the argument, a _lot_ of time will be wasted. Codicils are tempting but almost always the wrong “solution”. A safety deposit box is a slightly better option, so long as your executor(s) know where it is and have access to the key.Richard Day

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