When to do your will

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

Every adult Canadian should have a will. The question is, when should you get your will done? Rather than providing a single, definitive answer, I’ve provided several possible answers, as everyone’s circumstances are different.

Possible Answer #1: When you’re on your deathbed

Waiting until you’re on your deathbed is not a strategy I’d recommend. People can often die unexpectedly and many people develop dementia years before they die. If you’re on your deathbed and you want to do a will, or you want to make a change to an existing will, then that’s perfectly fine. Better late than never. However, I would caution against waiting until the last minute.

Possible Answer #2: When you learn that you’ve got a serious medical condition

Finding out that you’ve got a serious medical condition is a common reason for doing a will. If you find out that you have a serious medical condition and you don’t have a will, then you should really plan on getting one done in the near future. As with the deathbed scenario, I would recommend against waiting until you find out that you’re sick before doing a will. Again, better late than never. But why procrastinate? If you get it done now, you won’t have to worry about it later on.

Possible Answer #3: When you start a family

Getting married, starting a common-law relationship, and having kids are all reasons to get a will done. If any of those things are happening in your life, doing a will, or revising your will, likely makes sense.

Possible Answer #4: When a relationship ends

When a marriage or common-law partnership breaks down, that’s a time to consider revising your will. Most people wouldn’t want their exes to remain the primary beneficiaries of their estates. For that matter, if you don’t already have a will and you’re going through a breakup, you should consider doing one.

Possible Answer #5: When your kids have grown up

Often people have wills done when their kids are quite young. Those people are on top of things. They make sure guardians and executors are selected in case tragedy strikes, and they make sure that their wills provide appropriately for their children in the event they are left orphaned. What those people sometimes forget to do is update their wills once their kids have grown up. Whether you did a will when your kids were young, or you skipped that step and now your children are already adults, it makes sense to do a will that reflects the current state of your family.

Possible Answer #6: When your property has changed significantly

Usually a will is drafted so that it’s not overly specific about the type of property a person owns. Most wills leave the entirety of the estate to one or more people. Sometimes the term, “residue”, is used to describe whatever assets are left over after all the specific gifts have been dealt with in a will. For example, a person might give a specific piece of real estate to one person (a specific gift) and give the rest of the estate (the residue) to someone else. If the residual portion of a person’s property changes over time, that isn’t necessarily a big deal. However, if assets that form specific gifts in a will are changed over time, then the will may have to be updated to reflect a person’s current circumstances. In the example above, if the real estate that formed a specific gift in the will was sold and a new property was purchased, then the person who did the will might want to revise their will to specifically gift the new piece of real estate to the person who was meant to receive the old property.

Possible Answer #7: Now, if you’re an adult and you don’t have a will

It’s not a bad idea to have a will if you’re an adult. Even if you’re a single person in your early twenties, doing a will is prudent. Sure, you may have to change your will as your life circumstances change, but that should be expected. Estate planning should change and evolve over a person’s life. Don’t put off doing a will just because you’re waiting for some future event to happen.

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