Estate planning and wills
Learn about estate planning and preparing a will to transfer your property and money to specific people or charities after death.
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An estate is a legal term used to describe the assets (money, property and personal items) and debts a person leaves when they die.
An estate plan helps ensure your wishes are followed after your death, including what happens to your money, property and personal items and who will manage your estate.
Estate plans can help protect your family from having to make difficult choices about your estate when they are grieving. One of the most common ways to plan for your estate is to make a will.
A will is a legal document that takes effect when you die. It explains your wishes about how your property and possessions should be taken care of and distributed, for example, how much money should be paid to a specific person or charity. A will can also appoint one or more persons to have decision-making responsibility (custody) for children who are not yet adults.
If you don’t have a will
If you pass away without a will, the law determines:
- who is entitled to your estate
- how much they can receive
- who can apply to the court to manage your estate
Who can make a will
You can make a will if you:
- are at least 18 years old
- are mentally capable, which means you understand what property you have and what you are doing by making a will
People under 18 years old
If you are under 18 years old, you can make a will if you are:
- married or were married
- thinking about marriage to a person, and your will states this, and you marry the named person
- a member of the Canadian Forces or a sailor at sea or on a voyage
Prepare your own will
You can prepare your own will by:
- using an online tool
- completing a will kit
- writing a handwritten will, called a holograph will
These methods can be low or no cost but your will must be prepared correctly or it will not be valid, which can lead to family disputes and expensive lawsuits after your death, as well as delays taking care of and distributing your property and possessions.
Hire a lawyer to prepare your will
A lawyer can answer your questions and tell you about tax and other things to consider when preparing a will. A lawyer can also make sure your will meets legal requirements.
A lawyer can also store your will securely where your family can find it after your death.
The Law Society of Ontario offers a referral service that can help you find a lawyer.
If your situation is complicated (for example, if you own a business) you may also choose to speak to an accountant or financial advisor. Be sure to ask about their professional credentials and experience before you get their help with estate planning.
Choose someone you trust to manage your estate
An estate trustee is the person you choose to manage your estate after your death, sometimes called an executor. More than one person can be named in your will as your estate trustee. They must follow the instructions you left in your will and obey the law in carrying out their duties.
You may name someone as your estate trustee, such as a family member, friend, or lawyer. It’s a good idea to talk to them before naming them to make sure they’re comfortable with their responsibilities.
There are also private businesses that offer estate trustee services.
There are many things to think about when choosing an estate trustee, including the person’s:
- ability to manage property and finances
If your estate trustee does not live in Ontario, they might have to post a bond when applying for probate.
After you choose an estate trustee you should let them know where they can find your will.
A trust can be created as part of your will to hold certain money, property or personal items for people named in your will. It is managed by a trustee who must act in the best interests of these people.
You might set up a trust to provide benefits to:
- people under 18
- an adult that you feel may not be able to manage the money or property
- address tax implications
Speaking with a lawyer or accountant about your situation is the best way to understand if a trust could help you.
Other estate planning tools
If you own property with someone else, called joint tenancy, the property will automatically pass to the surviving owner if you die.
If you share a joint account for cash and investments with someone else, in many cases the surviving account holder becomes the owner of the account when you die, with the right to deposit, withdraw, and deal with the funds in the account.
You can also name someone to inherit the assets from your life insurance and other registered plans.