What is a will?
A will is a legal document, usually 3 to 10 pages, by which you express your wishes regarding the distribution of your property, the care of any minor children, and the general management of your estate after you die. Your estate is generally what we call your property, debt, and legal rights/responsibilities, all of which live on after you die. These things must be dealt with, similar to if you were alive. So your will specifies one or more persons to manage your estate and wrap everything up. That person must follow your instructions in your will. This person is called an “executor” or in Alberta a “personal representative”.
Why you want a will
Some of the benefits of having a will include:
- deciding who receives a portion of your assets when you die;
- deciding who will care for your children when you die (if you have any); and
- deciding who will manage your assets when you die.
You can also put constraints on some of your gifts such as leaving property in trust for certain people.
What happens if you die without a will?
A popular misconception is that if you die without a will, your property goes to the government, like a tax. This is incorrect. However, here are some things that may happen if you die without a will:
- someone must apply to the court to be allowed to manage your estate;
- your assets are distributed in accordance with the default rules decided by the government (eg your spouse gets everything, or if you do not have a spouse, your children get everything, or if you do not have children…etc);
- there will be no conditions on any of your beneficiaries’ inheritances (eg as long as they are 18 years old, they will get access to their inheritance); and
- someone must apply to the court to become guardian of your minor children.
There are also other documents you should consider having as part of planning for the future. We always recommend doing an enduring power of attorney (EPA) and a personal directive (sometimes called a “living will”) along with a will. Briefly, an EPA gives someone the power to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. A PD is similar but has to do with personal and health care decisions.
Ratzlaff Law is very happy to discuss with you about planning your estate, including making a simple or complex will.