Healthy living Money matters

Six qualities of a solid estate plan

Prepared by Willful for RTOERO

Estate planning and making a will is one of those tasks that can feel extremely overwhelming. It’s unsurprising that over 57 per cent of Canadians don’t have a last will and testament.

While making a will is important at any stage of life, a solid estate plan is even more paramount when it comes to retirement. Fortunately, estate planning doesn’t need to be complicated. To help make the process easier for you, we’ve broken down some important things to consider when creating your will.

Here are 6 things that help make up a quality estate plan

1. Legal in Canada

It may seem obvious, but one of the most important qualities of your estate plan is that it meets the requirements of a legal will in Canada. Despite what many people believe, this doesn’t mean you need to visit a lawyer or a notary. What makes a will legal is not how you’ve made your will, rather that you’ve met the criteria for a legal will.

While there are some nuances across provinces, the general requirements for a legal will in Canada are:

  • The will must be written by you, while you are of sound mind, and over the age of majority. (In some provinces, there are exceptions to the age restrictions.)
  • It must be in writing as a physical copy. (You cannot store a will online. The only exception is a Notarial will in Quebec.)
  • If the will is typed, it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who also sign to confirm they witnessed your signature.
  • The signatures must be at the very end of the will.

Your will isn’t legally binding until it has been properly signed and witnessed as needed, so it’s important you’ve met the requirements in your province!

2. Customized to your life situation

Every Canadian is different, so your estate plan should be as unique as you are. There are many factors that should be considered when creating a will.

To help tailor your estate plan to your life situation, you might consider asking yourself these key questions:

  • Are there any specific gifts you’d like to leave and to whom?
  • How would you like to divide your assets?
  • Who would you like to appoint as a guardian for any minor children?
  • Who will fill key roles, such as your executor?
  • What are your funeral and burial wishes?

In Canada, there are many ways to make a legal will so it’s important to choose a method that fits your unique life situation. Most Canadians have simple estates and can benefit from convenient options like a personalized Canadian online will platform. Other options include DIY Will Kits or Holographic Wills, as long as you meet the criteria for a will to be legally valid. If you have a more complex estate or require legal advice, you may want to consider visiting a lawyer or a notary.

3. Discussed with your loved ones

Conversations about estate planning and end of life can be tricky. In fact, two-thirds (66 per cent) of Canadians don’t know their spouse’s end-of-life wishes, and 57 per cent don’t know the end-of-life wishes for any of their loved ones.

Making a formal estate plan is important but it’s equally critical that you discuss your wishes with loved ones. Communicating your end-of-life wishes is one of the best ways to avoid unanswered questions, disputes and delays down the road. It’s also a great opportunity to discuss their wishes as well, so you’re informed when the time comes.

Make sure you’ve also checked in with individuals who play a key role in your estate plan, such as your executors and guardians for minor children. These roles are a large responsibility so it’s important to make sure that they’re willing to take on the role and familiar with your wishes.

4. Kept up-to-date

A will isn’t a one-and-done document; rather it’s a document that should evolve as your life changes. Yet, 64 per cent of Canadians don’t have an up-to-date will. The key to a quality estate plan is making sure it reflects your most current wishes.

While not every life change necessitates an update to your will, it’s important to review your estate plan regularly to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Consider reviewing your will at least once a year to make sure you have addressed any changes to your relationships, assets, or final wishes.

5. Includes plans for an unexpected emergency

Preparing for death is incredibly important; but, it’s just as important to consider what would happen if you were to experience a personal medical emergency or an unexpected accident. A quality estate plan includes making plans for these events. Power of attorney documents allow you to designate someone you trust to make decisions on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so yourself.

Consider creating a power of attorney for personal care (sometimes known as an advance directive or living will) to cover your personal needs and medical care, as well as a power of attorney for property (also known as an enduring power of attorney) to cover the property and financial aspects of your life. Many people choose to create their POAs at the same time they make their wills.

Think of your POA as a form of disability insurance (it takes care of you while you’re alive) and your will as a form of life insurance (it takes care of your loved ones after you pass away).

6. Leaves a legacy

Your will is a fantastic way to leave your assets to loved ones, but did you know you can also include a gift or donation to the charities you care about? Leaving a charitable gift in your will is called legacy giving.

While there is no requirement to leave a legacy gift in your will, many individuals choose to do so as it makes it possible to leave much larger gifts than they could while living. Legacy gifts support many organizations, plus it also allows you to leave a lasting legacy, even after you’ve passed away.

You don’t need to be wealthy to leave a legacy gift. You can leave as little or as much as you want – no gift is too small to impact.


There you have it, six qualities of a solid estate plan. However, the most important thing to remember is that the worst type of will is no will at all. If you die without a will in Canada, the courts will use provincial legislation to appoint an executor and divide up your estate. More often than not, this won’t be what you would have wanted.

Willful is an online estate planning platform that makes it affordable, convenient, and easy for Canadians to create a legal will online.