No-No's for Wills
(Will Content Errors) 

Will content errors can lead to anguish and loss of wealth for your heirs. As with many other endeavours, the best way to learn may be through mistakes. Here are some mistakes that you can learn from and, hopefully, avoid making yourself.

The biggest No-No of all; Not Having a Will

If you pass away before making a will, your assets will be distributed according to provincial legislation, regardless of your wishes. For example, the following distribution rules for those who die intestate (without a valid will), are laid out in The Ontario Succession Law Reform Act.

You Have a Spouse Only

Your entire estate goes to your spouse.

Spouse and One Child

The first $200,000 of your estate goes to your spouse, with the remainder split equally between your spouse and your child.

Spouse and Children

Again, the first $200,000 goes to your spouse, but now one-third of the remainder goes to your spouse. The rest is distributed equally among your children.

Children and no Spouse

Your children share the estate equally.

No Spouse or Children

Your entire estate goes to your parents. If they’ve already passed away, any siblings share the estate equally. Children of a deceased sibling share their parents’ share. If only your nieces and nephews are living, they share equally.

No Lawful Heirs

Your estate becomes property of the province.

Failing to Keep Your Will Current

What if you have a will, but it’s out-of-date?  This can be almost as bad as no will at all. Any significant life change calls for a change to your will. Here are some associated will content errors.

Marital Status Changes 

In Ontario, marriage revokes your will entirely. If you divorce, your will is read as if your former spouse died before you. For better or worse, a separation has no effect on your will.

Nature or Size of Your Assets Change

The greater the change, the less your will properly reflects the current nature of your estate.

Change of Residence

Fewer or More Beneficiaries

Change in Health


Creating a DIY Will

There are two basic types of wills.

  1. A formal, typed document, signed by the testator in the presence of at least two witnesses. 
  2. Holographic, in the testator's own handwriting and signed by them with no witnesses required.

Estate experts will always recommend that you have a formal will prepared by an experienced lawyer (or notary). There’s good reason for this. Typical will content errors you could create with a DIY will include:

Failure to Name Your Executor and an Alternate Executor

Failure to Account for all Assets, Thereby Creating a Partial Intestacy

Like a full intestacy (dying without a valid will), this means that assets not included in your will would be distributed according to provincial legislation.

Gifting More Than You Have

This can create confusion, or worse, legal troubles between beneficiaries.

Failure to Appreciate the Rights of Spouses and Dependents

Improper Wording or Invalid Provisions

A properly drafted will ensures that there’s no disconnect between your wishes and what’s communicated by the will. It also ensures the whole will isn’t thrown out as invalid.

Learning from your mistakes is a good life philosophy, but when it comes to estate planning, there aren’t any second chances as far as will content errors are concerned. It’s best to learn from the mistakes of others.

Also keep in mind that your will is just one part of your estate plan. Once tackled, you may want to consider other components such as powers of attorney, incapacity planning, and trusts.