Making Your Will – Where Do You Start?

Have you put off writing your will or thinking about estate planning?

Perhaps you wanted to wait until you have had more time to ponder all your choices. At least that’s how you rationalized it. But if you don’t write a will, you cannot protect your family or money. I’ll explain how you can get started.

Neglecting important legal matters until the very last moment is risky. If you rush making a will, you are bound to make mistakes.

You want a will that works, not one that causes more problems. I will show you how to get started on this.

But first, here is how many people handle making a will. I do not recommend this as a way to start.

The other day, I received a call from Carol Ann.

“I’m leaving on vacation tomorrow with my family.” She said. “Can you check my will to make sure it’s okay?”

“Why not call the lawyer who made the will?” I asked.

Carol Ann replied, “I did not use a lawyer. I made the will myself. I used a standard form I found. What’s the problem?”

I commented, “I did not say there was a problem, but you are asking me for legal advice.”

“I don’t need legal advice.” Carol Ann said. “I only need you to tell me if I used the right forms.”

Do-It-Yourself Lawyering

Many lawyers I know get callers like Carol Ann. These people don’t think they need advice to fill in a form. After all, they have high IQs, multiple degrees and are in charge of entire departments.

Carol Ann is like a stranger who telephones a doctor asking for a prescription. Can a doctor prescribe medication over the phone without examining the patient?

The answer is no.

Worse yet…

Carol Ann has diagnosed her own needs. She only wants medication. She does not want to go through the necessary examination. That’s like trying to run a marathon before you have learned to crawl.

How can Carol Ann know she has the right “standard form”? What if Carol Ann is:

• single,
• married,
• separated,
• divorced,
• in a blended a family,
• in a common law or same sex relationship?

These factors affect Caro Ann’s legal obligations. The relevant tax, family and estate laws are different in each situation. This restricts what she can do with her will.

How can a lawyer give advice without knowing Carol Ann’s specific circumstances, needs and wants?

Is making a will as easy as writing out what you want?

Absolutely not. Wills are complex.

A Will Is a Legal Document

A judge can rule on what your will means.

Judges must override wills that do not meet your legal obligations.

For example, you cannot cut out a dependent spouse or child simply because you want to. A judge can vary your will provisions to satisfy your legal obligations. These always trump what you may want to do.

No matter what you read on the internet, making a will is a complex matter. It is not the same as filling out a form.

Wills must comply with local property, estate, and family laws. What goes into a will is as important as what you leave out.

Are Lawyers Necessary for Estate Planning?

Some people think they have cracked lawyers’ monopoly on writing wills. These people think any bank staff or financial planner can tell you what to do. On top of that, they give their advice for free!

Never forget these advisors are not licensed to give legal advice or opinions about your will.

Many clients have a fear of dealing with lawyers.

I have lately developed a similar fear of roofers. Do you know what it costs to replace a roof? Shingles are petroleum products. Seems the last roofer I hired used discount materials. The price I paid for the roof was cheap, but it did not do the job. Now I have to redo everything.

But back to my point about why some people are afraid of lawyers…

Fear of Lawyers

Have you, or someone you know, had this experience with lawyers: You meet a lawyer you cannot understand, who seems to speak a foreign language. You sense the lawyer cannot understand what you need.

You only want a simple one-page will. You know, like the one your grandfather had. He made his will in 1952 before the world was flooded with lawyers.

Instead, you get a 10-page legal memo on tax planned wills. Oh yeah, and a bill for $450. You’d rather have a root canal than to go to the lawyer’s office again.

The Better Way to Make a Will

Do you want a will that works? You need legal advice.

I have tried to make things easy and remove your fears. Get started by reviewing these links:

P.S. When you hire a law firm, ask if you will meet a lawyer. You want advice from a lawyer, not a law clerk.

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, and C.S.) is an Ontario lawyer, nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto based Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of seven estate books.