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Monday, May 5, 2014

$99 wills: are they a good idea?

You may have heard that it's now possible to get a will made for $99 at Walmart. The Toronto Star recently ran a story about this, which you can read by clicking here.

When I heard about this, I definitely had mixed feelings. Not everyone needs or can afford to pay thousands of dollars for a will, so making it easier for those people to obtain a will is likely a good thing.

My concern is that the purchasers might not know whether a $99 will is adequate for their situation. I can tell you that hundreds of clients have started off their conversations with me by saying that all they need is something simple because their estates are simple. However, their estates turn out to be much more complicated than they thought. For example, many of the people who confidently tell me that things are simple have mistaken ideas about the law. They sometimes incorrectly believe that common law marriage is the same as legal marriage, that only the children of their marriage qualify as their children, that the person who receives an asset pays the tax on that asset, or that leaving $1 to a person will stop them from suing the estate.

Many people who have a "Walmart mentality", by which I mean the belief that the cheapest product is always the best choice simply because it's the cheapest, simply don't understand that you get what you pay for. Wills are no different. Cheaping out on this important step of your planning can cause untold financial and family hardships after you pass away. While you might be just as happy in a 25-year-old jalopy as you would in a brand new Cadillac, this attitude doesn't translate well into legal matters.

The couple of hundred dollars you save on having your will made might come back to haunt your spouse and children to the tune of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in estate litigation costs, if you have a will that is not adequate.

I hope everyone who approaches a Walmart lawyer for a will does so with great care, so that the product is only sold to those for whom it is suitable. However, I am not yet convinced that they will do so.

For more discussion of this issue, click here to read a recent blog post by Jasmine Sweatman at www.allaboutestates.ca.

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