young girl hugging her grandmother

A Will is considered the guiding legal document in the administration of an estate; it’s where you log your wishes and choices for how property and possessions are to be distributed when you pass away. In putting together your Will, it’s important to walk through a range of details and considerations, as well as how your decisions may impact family members or your estate in general. Taking the appropriate steps will help ensure your Will accurately reflects your wishes and intentions in the most effective way.

Will planning checklist

The following checklist is intended to assist you in preparing your Will plan. This checklist should be reviewed if you are currently preparing your first Will.

Note: This list focuses on major items and is not exhaustive. Given that each individual’s situation is different, it is crucial you consult with your qualified legal, tax and estate advisors to ensure your circumstances are properly accounted for.

  • Have you identified and listed all of your assets and liabilities?
  • Have you considered both your non-digital and digital assets?
  • Have you identified an executor or co-executors who can effectively act on your behalf? Have you also identified an alternate executor(s)?
  • Have you asked your chosen executor if they wish to fulfill this responsibility? (Keep in mind that the executor’s duties can be significant, so it’s important for them to understand the potential scope of the responsibilities and the length of time required.)
  • Does your executor know where your Will is/will be kept?
  • Have you decided what degree of discretion you will allow the executor (e.g. a broader range of investment options or the ability to liquidate assets at their discretion)?
  • Have you identified your intended beneficiaries (e.g. family members, charities or others) and determined the gifts you want to leave them?
  • Have you identified a specific beneficiary for your registered assets (e.g. RRSP, RRIF or TFSA) or life insurance policies? Registered assets, such as an RRSP or RRIF, left to a surviving spouse or, in certain circumstances, to a financially dependent child or grandchild can be transferred on a rollover basis, deferring a significant tax liability.
  • If you’re making reference in your Will to beneficiaries of registered plans or life insurance policies, are these beneficiary designations in your Will consistent with the specific beneficiary designations on the plans or policies (except in Quebec)?
  • Have you considered the use of testamentary trusts for your spouse or for adult/minor children?
  • Have you considered staggering the distribution of an inheritance to your children? (This will depend on the size of the inheritance and the child, but you may want to pro-rate the distribution over several years.)
  • If you have any minor children, have you named a guardian and alternate guardian for them?
  • Are there any loans or debts owed to you by family members that you would like to forgive at death?
  • Are there any special circumstances that need to be considered within your Will (e.g. children from a previous marriage, a common-law spouse, a pending divorce or bankruptcy of a beneficiary)?
  • Have you prepared a memorandum outlining the distribution of your personal effects?
  • Have you considered the implications of your provincial or territorial family or marital property laws, if applicable?

thoughtful older man with glasses

For gathering and recording a complete list of your family’s pertinent financial information, RBC Wealth Management’s The Family Inventory is a useful guidebook you can use to help ensure all assets are accounted for and considered. Remember, this information should be stored safely and securely (e.g. in a password protected electronic file or in print in your safety deposit box), and make sure your executor is aware of it.

Did you know?

According to a recent poll by Angus Reid Institute, 51 percent of Canadians don’t have a Will in place. Of those who do have one, only 35 percent say theirs is up to date.1

Will review checklist

If you already have a Will in place, keep in mind that it’s just as important to ensure it remains up to date and that it still reflects your wishes and intentions. Beyond specific life events, it’s generally a good idea to review your Will every three to five years.

Note: This is not an exhaustive list. If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, you should review your Will with your legal advisor to determine if changes are necessary.

  • Since your Will was created, have you been married, divorced, separated, or have you started a relationship with a new partner?
  • Has a spouse or significant beneficiary died since your last Will was created?
  • Have you had any additions to the family, such as a child or grandchild, since your last Will?
  • Changes to your financial position at any life stage should be a trigger for reviewing plans. Has your net worth significantly increased (e.g. with an inheritance) or decreased (e.g. because of bankruptcy) since you prepared your last Will?
  • Have you or a beneficiary moved to a different province or territory or country since you prepared your last Will?
  • Have you acquired significant new assets, such as a cottage, business or farm, since you prepared your last Will?
  • Are your chosen executors or trustees still appropriate?
  • Are your named guardians for your minor children still appropriate?
  • Do you wish to add or remove any beneficiaries?
  • Do you wish to change the terms of distribution to any of the beneficiaries?
  • Have there been any changes to relevant legislation since your Will was created (e.g. changes to the Income Tax Act or provincial or territorial family law legislation)?

For more information on Will planning and when to review your Will, please read the Fall 2017 Perspectives article “What’s in a Will?”.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the executor role, the Fall 2017 Perspectives also includes the article “A matter of informed choice.”

  1. “What ‘will’ happen with your assets? Half of Canadian adults say they don’t have a last will and testament.” Angus Reid Institute poll results. Released January 2018.