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What is a will and what happens if I die without making one?

What is a will and what happens if I die without making one?
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Reviewed: 
October 31, 2019
Answer

A will is a legal document that says who gets your property after you die. The property you own when you die is called your estate.

A will is sometimes called a "last will and testament". The person making a will is called a testator.

If you have a spouse, you cannot make one will for both of you. You must each make your own will.

Reasons for making a will

It's usually a good idea to make a will whether or not you're married, have children, or have many assets.

You might think you don't need a will if you don't own a house, don't have much money, or don't care who gets your property. But someone will have to arrange your funeral, pay your debts, and file your final tax returns.

When you make a will you decide:

  • your estate trustee, who is the person you trust to carry out the directions in your will
  • your beneficiaries, who are the people and organizations you want to leave your property to
  • who will care for your children under the age of 18
  • who will manage the property you left for your children under the age of 18
  • who you want to give specific property, like jewellery or a car, that may be valuable or have sentimental value to you
  • what you want to happen at your funeral

If you die without a will, Ontario law has rules about who gets the property in your estate. These are called the intestacy rules. Under these rules, people who you thought would get your property may get less or more than you wanted them to get. Or, they may get nothing.

For example, the intestacy rules say only a legally married spouse and biological and adopted children have a right to your property. The intestacy rules do not give anything to a common-law partner, or to stepchildren you haven't legally adopted.

Get legal help

An estates lawyer can tell you how best to deal with your property and make sure you follow the rules for making a will.

If you have a low income, you may be able to get help from the Wills Clinic at The 519 or the Queen's University Elder Law Clinic. You can also call your local community legal clinic to see if they help with wills. If you have a simple estate, there are services such as Axess Law, that offer legal services at lower rates.

If you have a large or complicated estate, it might be a good idea to talk to a financial advisor as well as an estates lawyer.

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