Why You Need a Will, and What Happens If You Don’t Have One

When it comes to personal finance, for the most part, I don’t believe that there’s any room for judgment. How you choose to save and spend your money is up to you. But if you’re an adult and don’t have a will, especially if you’re a parent, then I am judging you. 

Creating a will doesn’t have to be scary; not having one is what’s scary. So if you are an adult, you need a will.  Let me explain why and what happens if you don’t have one.

Why You Need a Will

Having a will gives you power, eases your affairs’ resolution if something happens to you, and is an enduring act of love to your family and friends.  

When you create a will, you have the power to choose who will be your representative, who will be the guardian for your minor children, and how your estate will be delegated or divided.  Without a will, all of those decisions are in the power of the courts.

Even though your estate may go to your surviving spouse or family members when you don’t have a will, the process can be very long and drawn out through the courts.  Your family and friends will not be able to settle any of your affairs, including things like selling your car or accessing your bank accounts, until everything goes through the courts.

Just by taking a little time now, you can save your family and friends hours, if not days, of increased stress upon your passing.  Making a will and keeping it up to date is an enduring act of love.  It will make handling your affairs less stressful for your family and friends, saving them time.  It is your final gift to them – the gift of time.

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Why People Avoid Writing Their Wills

According to a survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, 51% of Canadians don’t have a last will and testament, and only 35% say that their will is up to date. That means that less than 15% of Canadians have an up to date legal will.  This is a problem, a big problem.

Here are some of the top reasons why adults avoid making a will:

  • Its too complicated
  • Don’t want to have to make decisions
  • Its too expensive
  • Fear of death
  • Think you don’t need one

Let’s dig into these “excuses” and put them to rest once and for all.

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Its Too Complicated

It has never been easier to create a legal will in Canada.  

Many online options will walk you through the process.  They make it very simple and avoid all the legal jargon that you’ve probably been avoiding.

In Canada, a will does not need to be notarized or registered to be legal.  You don’t even need a lawyer.

Don’t Want to Have to Make Decisions

Newsflash, being an adult sometimes means making tough choices.

Yes, when making a will, there may be some tough decisions. You will have to decide who will be your representative (also known as your executor), who will have guardianship of your minor children, and how you would like your estate delegated upon your death.

And although these may seem like difficult decisions, not making them and avoiding the fact that you need a will, doesn’t make the decisions go away.  By not making the tough decisions, you enable the courts to decide upon your death. 

As hard as some of these decisions seem, I would much rather decide who will be the guardian for my little one and my estate’s delegation then give up that freedom of choice to a stranger in a courtroom.

Its Too Expensive

Getting your will done by a lawyer if you have a very complicated estate can be expensive; I’m not going to lie.

But the majority of Canadians don’t have a complicated estate.  When we bought our first home we decide to get to create our wills.  It cost us $300, and that included our last wills and testaments, personal directives, and the enduring power of attorneys.

If you think that $300 is still a lot of money, there are online will creating options that will help you write your will for a fraction of that cost.

You can even prepare your will in your handwriting.  This is known as a holograph will, and although it’s not the best option (because you are likely to forget vital information to include), it’s still better than not having a will.

Fear of Death

I’m going to let you in on a little secret, writing your will does not mean that you are tempting fate or will die any sooner than if you didn’t have a will.

I think rationally, people understand this, but when emotions are involved we tend to be irrational at times.

A will has no power while you are alive.  It’s not as if someone can come and begin to take your assets while you are alive because you have bequeathed them in your will.

Think You Don’t Need One

This is one excuse I’ve heard many times from friends, especially those without kids.  They think that because they have no minor children that they don’t need a will. Or if they don’t have any assets, then they don’t have a will.

But the reality is, if you are an adult, you need a will.  Your will gives your personal representative the power to deal with your affairs – that includes anything and everything that may be in your name when you die.  Not having one is not only lazy, but it is also selfish.

Having a legal (up to date) will help your survivors (family and friends) deal with your estate after you are gone.  It makes things much easier than if you didn’t have a will.  Making a will and keeping it up to date can be an enduring act of love to your loved ones. 

What Happens If You Die Without a Will

Here is where things get complicated.

If you die without a will, the courts are appointed to manage your estate.  There are different intestate laws in each province and territory for how this will proceed.

Without a will, there is nobody appointed to take charge of your affairs.  So the courts will appoint an Estate Administrator to located your assets and distribute them according to Provincial/Territorial law.

Although each province and territory has its own intestate laws, here is an example of what may happen to your estate if you die without a will.

  • If you are single (with no kids or grandkids) your estate goes to your parents.  If you have no surviving parents then it goes to your siblings.  And if you have no siblings it goes to your nieces and nephews.  No nieces and nephews? Then your estate would be passed on to your cousins.  And if you have no surviving relatives your estate becomes the property of the government.
  • If you are married (with no kids) your estate goes to your spouse.  But the process of this transition is much slower than if you had a legal will in place.
  • If you are married (with kids), it is complicated as to who gets your estate and in what proportions.  This is where it varies significantly by province/territory.

So to everyone reading this who is a single adult without kids, I have one question – do you want the government to inherit your estate when you die? I’m not single but as a married parent, I would not want the government their hands on getting my hard-earned estate.

why you need a will Pinterest pin - woman signing a will.

Final Thoughts 

As a parent, I feel an obligation to ensure that my little one is cared for should something happen to me.  Yes, you could argue that there is a small chance that something could happen.  But there is still that chance, and not being prepared for it is not something I’m willing to gamble with.

Creating a will and keeping it up to date will take you a few hours a year (at most).  But it can save your loved ones hours upon hours of time upon your death. And the easier your estate is, the easier (and cheaper) it can be to make your will.

Please don’t be part of the 51% of Canadians who do not have a will.  Make creating your will a priority.

14 thoughts on “Why You Need a Will, and What Happens If You Don’t Have One”

  1. This is probably the most important post I’ve read this week! You are right, having a will is so so so important. I’ve been wanting to create one since my daughter was born… Almost exactly 7 years ago, but I’ve been postponing it because it makes me sad. I really should look into it now. Thank you!

  2. its funny – I just booked an appointment with my lawyer for next week to do this exact thing. My previous will is about 15 years old and NEEDS a refresh. I don’t have kids or a spouse but I don’t want to leave my sister with a pain to deal with as my affairs will be a bit complicated.
    My key is enduring power of attorneys. I have specific wishes I want in case of serious illness or injury and I want to make sure those are respected. I doubt my thoughts on those are same as they were 15 years ago.

    1. Pam – great minds think alike. You are right that even if you don’t have kids or a spouse you still need a will. It definitely makes things easier for your friends and family. Nobody wants to leave them with a mess to sort out.

  3. Great post Maria. $300 for your will, personal directives, and power of attorney – wow that’s actually a great price! We JUST got our completed a few weeks ago and spent $700 for our family for all 3 items (and thought that was a great deal as others were priced in the $1,000-$1,500 range). Of course, there is the option to get one done online, but for us, we wanted to have 1-on-1 conversations with a lawyer to talk everything over with and I’m glad we did.

    1. Court – you got a great price at $700. Our $300 wills were over a decade ago and we had no kids and our only asset was a house – they were very basic.

      I agree that having a 1 on 1 conversation with a lawyer isn’t a bad idea depending on your circumstances. When we updated our wills this last time we met with our lawyer to have them updated.

  4. Creating a will is so important. And updating it as well. My husband had a lengthy court process when he inherited his grandfather’s house. Apparently, there were some issues that had to be reviewed. Thank you for the reminder to prioritize taking care of our loved ones.

    1. Ana – you make a great point. Creating a will is taking care of your loved ones. The process can be so complicated without a will.

  5. I keep meaning to get one done, and it keeps getting put off for something else… I really should get on it! Thanks for the details! Makes me want to get it done ASAP! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Katherine – hopefully, this is the reminder you need to get your will done. I don’t think that you’re alone in having it on your list of things to do for awhile.

  6. I’m a bit of a stickler for good estate planning, and was so glad to see this post! Wills are SUCH a central piece of your estate plan and can save your loved ones a lot heartache and hassle.

    We had our Will done when our first son was born. Our lawyer worded it very cleverly so that we wouldn’t need to update it if additional children came along. I still review it occasionally to make sure everything is still accurate, which, thankfully, it all is!

    I hope this post helps more people (particularly parents) recognize the importance of having an up-to-date Will.

    1. Chrissy – we were the same when our wills were updated with the birth of our little one. Our lawyer worded it in a way that would apply to any future little ones too.

      It is a good practice to review your will every few years as things can change. If you have a solid will the review process is fairly simple.

  7. Creating a will is one of my main “adulting” tasks for this year. It’s been one of those “on my mind” things for…years, honestly. I’d say I’ve definitely lived in the thinking it’s complicated and expensive camp (which as you’ve noted is just not the case). This is going to be the year, though!

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