Will Kits: ‘Saving a Bundle’ or ‘Betting the Farm’?

“Will kits” are packages usually consisting of a preprinted form (or increasingly do-it-yourself web site forms/downloads) and instructions on how to complete the form. A client asked me earlier this year about an advertisement promoting a “Will kit” which would allow him to “save a bundle” on legal fees, as the kit would allow him to prepare a Last Will and Testament on his own. My answer was that he should apply this money towards hiring a lawyer.

A Will is one of the most important documents that you will ever sign because at stake is the passing on of everything you have acquired during your lifetime.

Wills in Ontario operate under laws including the Succession Law Reform Act. Wills must employ precise language that leaves no doubts as to the intentions of the testator.

Ontario law has strict formalities that must be followed when preparing a Will and failing to follow them can invite litigation.

A “Will kit” that I recently reviewed peppers its readers with a list of lengthy disclaimers instructing them to seek out a lawyer for the following situations (contemplation of marriage; contemplation of divorce after separation; transfer ownership of a farm; providing for long term medical care for a dependent; complicated family situations, etc.) I noted to myself that with the complexity of modern life, many Canadians can be slotted into one of that kit’s numerous disclaimers.

Ontario cases with “Will kits” have dealt with issues including the Testator (person making the will) leaving blanks on forms or handwritten instructions which contradict other wording in the Will or on the Will form – instructions which conflict with other wording in a Will may give a result completely different from what the Testator intended.

It is preferable to hire and pay a lawyer to draft a will in the first place, rather than have one’s eventual heirs face potential litigation; moreover, the Estate may have to pay a litigation lawyer to defend the Estate or sue on behalf of the Estate as a result of a testator (the person making a Will) incorrectly using a “Will kit” form to draft and sign a Will themselves.

Unless you have had an extensive legal education (and or training) in wills and estates, preparing your own Will, even with the assistance of a “Will kit” is a considerable risk. The purpose of this article is to impress the need to find a lawyer with whom you are comfortable – then meeting with that lawyer to prepare and sign a Will. There is no substitute for professional legal advice when preparing a Will.

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