Helpful Tips for Updating Your Will

By Stacy Maurier

A Laptop, notebook and coffee

Clients often ask how frequently they should review their Will, and what steps they need to take to update it. The answers are not always straightforward, since each person’s circumstances can be very different. Here’s some general advice I provide clients when it comes to updating their Wills:

When to update your Will

There are two rules of thumb that I recommend for deciding when it’s time to update your Will. First, have you or your family experienced a major life event? And second, how different is your life today than when you first wrote your Will?

If you or anyone named in your Will has experienced a major life event, including birth or adoption, marriage or divorce, death or disability, then you have to consider whether the Will is still aligned with your original wishes. Major life events can also include someone moving to another country or province, a retirement, a sale of a major asset such as a home or business, or anything that alters the economic reality of the time when your Will was first written.

In my experience most people write their Wills and don’t think about them for years or even decades after. The surprises they encounter when they review them again can be surprising, to say the least. Imagine adult children discovering they have a guardian appointed to them in their parents’ Will, or realizing that the executor of the Will is a former friend or neighbour who has lost touch with the family or passed away.

A simple guideline I suggest to my clients is to review their Will every birthday that either ends in 0 or 5. This simple exercise could make the transfer of your assets to your loved ones, and to the causes you care about, much smoother.

What steps should you take to update your Will, and add a charitable gift? 

It may sound simple, but finding your original Will is the first thing you need to do. Then go over your Will carefully. Make any notes (but not on the original document itself!) about questions or concerns you may have with your estate plan.

Next, contact your legal representative about making any changes to your Will. It’s very important to find a lawyer, or notary if you live in Quebec, who focuses on estate planning. Estate lawyers and notaries are well versed in the law and stay up to date on current changes.

If you are thinking of including a gift in your Will to your favourite charities, you might consider working with an estate lawyer or notary who is familiar with the ins and outs of the charitable tax regime, so you can make the most of your gift. By making a donation in your Will not only will your estate receive an income tax deduction, you’ll also be creating a legacy that can carry on long after you’re gone.   

Adding a charitable gift to your existing Will can be as simple as having your legal representative draft a codicil. A codicil is a legal clause that can be used to make changes to an existing will, without recreating the entire document. However, if you are making many other changes to your original Will your lawyer or notary may advise that it is best to just create an entirely new Will.

Due diligence is important. But even more so when it comes to your Will. After all, we’re talking about the estate you spent your life building, and the legacy you want to leave behind. To make sure your Will is up to date, and your current wishes are honoured, it is always best to work with an experienced and knowledgeable legal professional.

If you have any questions on any of this, or would like to discuss your estate, please get in touch: [email protected]

About the Author

Stacy Maurier

Stacy is the Founder of Estate Connection, a multidisciplinary law firm in Alberta. Stacy works with her clients to draft Wills and estate documents, incorporate companies, create unanimous share agreements, handle real estate transactions, and litigate if need be. Stacy’s array of expertise allows her to take care of her clients from cradle to grave, and proficiently handle the issues that arise at any point during the estate, probate, or litigation process.