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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When should I update my will?

A will is something that, once signed, gets put away and not thought about again for many years. Wills don't expire so there is no built-in deadline for renewing them. But we should review and update our wills from time to time. The question is - when? How do we know that it's time to dust off the old wills and check them over?

For those of you (you know who you are) who did your wills so long ago that now you can no longer remember where the wills are or which lawyer drafted them or even what the will says, the answer is that you must get new wills now. If your will can't be found, in effect you have no will.

For the rest of us, a will should be reviewed after important life events take place. Obviously this looks a bit different for everyone in terms of how many years are involved, but the life events are shared by all. They are:
  • you get married or divorced
  • you are widowed
  • you have your first child
  • your children all reach the age of majority
  • you retire
Other things going on in your life that should spur you to re-visit your will are:
  • you own a business and are thinking about retiring or selling
  • you buy a vacation property in another country
  • one of your children has an addiction, bankruptcy or other problem that interferes with handling money
  • you have become estranged from one of your children
  • you want to set up charitable giving through your will
  • your spouse is experiencing early signs of dementia
  • your financial status has changed, for better or worse, since you made your will
  • you have moved to a different province or country
Finally, there are events related to the will itself that require you to make some changes:
  • the person named as executor has died, lost mental capacity or moved far away
  • one or more of the beneficiaries has died
  • you want to include additional beneficiaries or remove someone who is currently named as a beneficiary
  • you want to hold some beneficiaries' shares in trust
 I encourage anyone who hasn't looked at his or her will in the last five years to take it out, skim it over, and possibly sit down with an estate planner to talk about whether the will still meets your needs. Not every review results in changes being made. If your will is still suitable, you've gained peace of mind without changing your documents.


  1. Great post! I love your blog. You have useful lists of things to do when it comes to will. Very informative! Thanks a lot.

  2. How often can I legally change my will in Ontario? Do I or my executors have to prove or exlain if they were done closely in terms of date?

    1. You can change your will as often as you like, as long as you have mental capacity to do so. I don't really understand the second part of your question.


    2. Even a month after the first one? Thanks so much for your help!

    3. Yes, you can change your will a month later. However, think about the impression you're leaving if you change your mind constantly. Since I don't know the details of what kinds of changes you want to make, I'm not sure what you're trying to achieve with multiple changes. If you suddenly make a will that is very different from one you had recently made, think about whether it's an odd or unexpected change (such as including a beneficiary who'd never been included before). Perhaps you should talk to a lawyer about how to support unusual changes to your will by a) the lawyer's notes and b) some commentary in your will.


    4. I'll be using a different lawyer, and I have the original will (the lawyer only has a copy). I will destroy it when the newer will is signed. The newer one will be more fair to my spouse and will include my spouse in our house title. So it is an improvement which should resolve potential conflict later on. Agreed? Thank you so much.

  3. Must updates be done in my Lawyer's office, or is there a process for updating minor changes without involving my Lawyer?

    1. Updates don't have to be done in the lawyer's office. You can do them yourself if you feel that it's something you can deal with on your own. Don't write on your original will or otherwise make any changes to that actual document. Since you are talking about a minor change and not a whole new will, you should prepare a codicil that confirms your will and clarifies which bit is to be amended. Remember that codicils have the same witnessing requirements as wills do.


  4. Hi Lynne, Do we need to update our will if we moved city? We are still in Ontario but just moved from Toronto to Halton. Thank you.

    1. No, there is no need to update if that is the only change.


  5. Thank you Lynne, for this excellent resource!

    My partner of 4 years and I have recently bought a life lease seniors condo,
    sharing all expenses. We each have detailed wills, but now need to update
    them. Our individual estates are willed to our own children. I have a much
    larger Estate.

    Here is what I am planning to add to my will:
    "Codicil to the last will and testament of _______________ .

    I, ____________________residing in _____________, being of sound mind,
    declare that this Codicil to last Will and Testament of _________________is
    effective on this date and shall hereby amend my Last Will and Testament
    dated ___________as follows:
    ITEM 1
    3.4 Residence shall be amended to ____________________
    3.4.1 If my partner ___________________is living on the date
    of my death, my Estate Trustee shall hold my ½ of our life lease, which I
    am using as my principal residence at the date if my death (currently
    _______________________________as a home for my partner
    ___________________________for up to 2 years from the date of my death.
    3.4.2 All condo life lease fees shall be paid by my partner,
    ________________until the life lease is sold, at which time my estate is to
    receive ½ of the total price of the sale of our jointly owned life lease

    Or would you suggest I see my lawyer?

  6. Hello Lynn, when I did my will years back, my girls were minors and I put a friend of ours to be the executor. Now they reached maturity. When I phoned my lawyer to ask. They said I need a new Will. Is this right?

    1. You don't need a new will just because your kids grew up. Is it your plan to change your executor from your friend to your kids? If so, you need to do either a new will or a codicil.

      Most likely a new will is a better idea. Things change over the years, including your financial position, tax laws, people in your life, etc.

      In the old days, the prevailing wisdom is that a codicil was faster and cheaper than getting a whole new will. It is questionable whether that is still a valid assumption. Codicils were put into place back in the days of carbon paper and typewriters. Now that wills are all on computer, it's probably quicker and cheaper to update the will document.

      It also depends on whether the lawyer you contacted is the one who did the original will. I personally dislike doing codicils for wills drawn by other lawyers, unless they are really good wills drawn by wills specialists. This is because I don't like the idea of confirming a weak will. So, maybe the lawyer you contacted feels the same way.


  7. Hi Lynne,
    I definitely need to make changes to my will, and so do my parents, but do we need to go back to our original lawyer to make them? Even doing a codicil my lawyer will charge a lot. I was thinking of using an online service where I can print and sign in front of two witnesses. What do you think about online options? Not to mention, we all only have copies of our wills; our lawyer has the originals. Is that how its supposed to be?

    1. You can go to any lawyer you like to have changes made to your will. Codicils are no longer a cheaper option because it's actually faster and easier to make changes to an existing will on a computer than it is to create a new document (i.e. the codicil). Back when things were hand-written, codicils were the bomb, but now they are outdated.

      You are legally entitled to make your own will or codicil. Whether or not it's a good idea for you, I absolutely cannot say. I don't know you, I haven't seen your existing will, and I don't know what changes you want to make. Therefore I couldn't possibly know if an online (i.e. no legal advice included) option would work for you.

      Yes, it's pretty common that the lawyer stores original wills for clients. The clients need a fireproof, secure storage location and the lawyer provides that. In exchange, the lawyer hopes that the client will come back for changes and that the executor will hire the lawyer to do the probate when the time comes. But it is your will and you are entitled to retrieve it from the lawyer's office whenever you want to.



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