A handwritten will can be valid. It must be entirely in your own handwriting, dated and signed. So, the classic wild west gunman that writes, dates and signs his will in blood has a valid will. No witnesses are required. If any part of the will is not in your own handwriting, such as the pre-typed parts on a store bought form, it is not a valid will unless all the formal requirements for witnessing are met. Of course, the validity of the contents of the will is fraught with difficulties when people prepare their own will without the benefit of professional legal advice.
Many people think a Will is only for someone with a lot of money. In fact, everyone should have a Will. It is the only way to ensure that your assets will go to the friends, relatives, and charities important to you. You can also set up special trusts, name the people who will be responsible for handling your Estate, specify your funeral arrangements, or appoint legal guardians for your children.
If you die without a Will, the government will dictate who gets your property and who manages your estate. People you were hoping to remember with a special gift may end up getting nothing. On the other hand, someone you were planning to write out of your Will (such as an estranged spouse) may receive everything you own.
People often ask us about the advantages of a will done by a lawyer. They often preface their remarks by telling us they have a simple estate and would like to save the money they would spend to get a will done by a lawyer.
In the following video Ralph Colistro tackles this issue. Watch and listen to see what Ralph has to say.
Unless you wish to make specific gifts of specific items, we do not need a specific item-by-item list of your property. In our experience, it is usually best to avoid gifting specific pieces of property to specific persons unless there is a valid reason to do so. Rather than giving one bank account to one beneficiary and another different bank account to another, the preferred route is to give each one a certain percentage of your Estate. Then, if you switch bank accounts, a new will is not required. . Many people will list family keepsakes in a separate handwritten list. This avoids the need to constantly change your Will as you dispose of or acquire property.
You must provide us with a list of your beneficiaries and their residence. Make sure you have the full legal name for any organizations that may receive charitable gifts. Galbraith Law has a list of the proper legal names for most charitable organizations and verifies the proper legal name on the CRA website for all registered charities. For example, the Edmonton Food Bank is actually the Edmonton Gleaners Association. You can make a quick phone call to any organization to determine the proper name of the organization or of a particular fund you wish to include in your Will.
Potentially, there are three different roles to fulfill when completing your will. First, you name a Personal Representative (PR) and at least one alternate. The PR will call in all your assets, pay your debts and taxes and then distribute all your assets. If you have any trusts, such as for minor children, you can have the PR act as Trustee or you can appoint a separate Trustee. Finally, you can name a Guardian for any minor children in the event that both parents die.
Take note of any property held outside Alberta. Some property may require special treatment. Property in some areas, such as the U.S.A., may trigger a large tax bill on death. Take steps to avoid the tax where possible or make sure there is money to pay the tax. Property in other jurisdictions may require a separate will.
As of February 1, 2012, the rule that marriage revokes a Will is no longer applicable in Alberta. In its place is a new rule that, upon divorce, any Will made prior to the date of divorce is read as if the spouse had predeceased. Many other jurisdictions still have a rule stating that a Will is revoked upon marriage so we still recommend including a clause in your Will to cover this situation if you are in a common-law relationship.
Children from a previous marriage, children from a new marriage and a new spouse all require special attention. The consequences of your estate plan are often complex in these types of situations. Most people want to ensure that a new spouse does not lose the enjoyment of the estate during their lifetime while treating all children fairly. This may require some special provisions.
Galbraith Law can give you the advice and assistance you need to plan your Will. We will review your situation, discuss your wishes and make recommendations on the best way to structure your Will.
A Will must be properly drafted and signed in the correct manner. We make sure the clauses in your Will carry out your true wishes. You can be confident that every Will signed at Galbraith Law satisfies all legal requirements.