What is a Will?

A will is a document prepared by you during your lifetime to take effect upon your death. It directs how the various assets and possessions you own will be disposed of when you die.

The function of a will is twofold. It directs to whom the assets of a deceased person are to be distributed, and it appoints a person, called an “executor”, to carry out that distribution and other matters involved in the administration of the estate. This person is also known as an “estate trustee.”

Should everyone have a Will?

The simple answer is yes. A will is important for a variety of reasons. Should you die without a will, the administration of your estate is complicated by the fact that you did not appoint an executor and the court must be called upon to appoint someone to administer the estate. The government will not “take it all”, as some believe, but assets will be distributed according to set principles, and not in keeping with what you might have wanted. For example, without a will, your spouse will not automatically have all your assets passed on to him or her.

Death without a will may result in your assets passing to heirs whom you did not wish to benefit. Conversely, relatives and friends whom you would have wanted to benefit and whom you believed would inherit your estate, may receive less than you intended or nothing at all.

For your values and your faith-based principles to shine through in the settlement of your final affairs, an up-to-date will is essential.

The value of having a will cannot be over-emphasized, regardless of the size of the estate involved. It makes things much simpler for your surviving family members, and it ensures that your property passes to those whom you wish to benefit.

Is a lawyer necessary?

There is no legal requirement that a will be prepared by a lawyer. Be careful; however, if you intend to draft your own will. Legal advice should be consulted under the following considerations:

  1. if you are to be married
  2. if you are under the age of 18
  3. if you have mental health issues in your past
  4. if you are aged and your mental capacity might be called into question
  5. if you are separated from your spouse
  6. if your estate is likely to be large and complicated
  7. if you own assets in a country other than Canada

Always remember that a will is a technical document and a number of formalities must be followed in order to make it valid.

Information based on the booklet Wills for Ontario by David Botnick, LL.B. Botnick is Canada’s original and leading publisher of law for the layperson.

Summary of Steps in Preparing a Christian Will

There is a difference between fulfilling your obligations (I Timothy 5:8) and making gifts (II Corinthians 8:5). Scripture mandates that we support those whom God has placed within our care. Gratitude for material blessings however, is expressed by our gifts (II Corinthians 8:6-7). Listed below are steps involved in preparing a will that incorporates Biblical stewardship principles.

Step #1 Determine Your Benefactors

  1. Identify the people whom you have a legal or moral obligation to support.
  2. Distinguish between what you “owe” your beneficiaries, and what they might like.
  3. Consider ways to teach Christian stewardship values in how your estate is distributed.
  4. Note specific individual needs of your beneficiaries:
    1. Age
    2. Disability
    3. The ability to handle money and property responsibly

Step #2 List Your Assets – Identify the property over which you are a steward

  1. Determining one’s net worth, (including life insurance and pension assets), usually indicates that we are blessed with much more than we realized.
  2. An inventory of financial resources reveals places where:
    1. there are potential tax consequences
    2. there are special giving opportunities

Step #3 Integrate “People” and “Property” into a Plan. The plan should be designed to:

  1. Discharge your obligations, and then
  2. Make gifts
  3. Determine how to avoid family misunderstandings and tensions in settlement of the estate.

Step #4 Identify the participants needed to implement your plan in your absence.

  1. Determine a personal representative called “the executor”
  2. Select a primary and secondary executor *
  3. Appoint a guardian for minors or disabled family members*
  4. Appoint a trustee/guardian of the estate/Conservator*

* It is best to get permission from the individuals before they are appointed.

Step #5 Estate planning is an ongoing and transitional process.

Other documents, consistent with your will, may assist you in meeting personal goals while you are still living.

  1. Power of Attorney for Property
  2. Health Care Power of Attorney/Living Will

Information based on Planning Your Will by Dr. Dirk VanderSteen, Director (retired) of Planned Giving at Bethany Christian Services