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A Will is a legal document that sets forth the wishes of the person making it (the testator) regarding the distribution of property and the care of minor children, if any, after their death, and is the centrepiece of most estate plans. The Will names one or more executors who have been entrusted with the duty to carry out the wishes of the deceased. It also provides the executor(s) with instructions on how the estate should be distributed.
In most jurisdictions the testator must be at least 18 years old to make a Will. However exceptions may be made for younger people if they are in the military, if they are married or if they have been legally emancipated. In addition the testator must be of "sound mind" to make a Will, which means that:
A Will should be reviewed from time to time to ensure that it still meets the needs of the testator and that the property will be distributed according to his or her wishes. It is especially important to review a Will on the following events:
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In order to be valid, a Will does not need to adhere to any specific form, or feature certain language. However, the document must disclose the intention of the testator in making dispositions of his or her property to come into effect at death.
A typical Will usually provides that all debts of the estate including taxes should be paid first (although they are payable anyway). It names one or more Executors, who will be responsible for administering the estate, and then set out the powers of the Executor(s) in administering the estate. It may provide for their compensation or it may be silent, in which case compensation is governed by the common law. A Will then sets out any specific gifts of property or money that are to be made. Whatever is left after all of the specific gifts have been given and all debts have been paid is called the residue of the estate. A Will should contain a residue clause specifying how the residue should be distributed. The residue is often the largest part of an estate, but its value will depend on the assets and debts of the testator at the time of his or her death and cannot be determined at the time the Will is made. The larger the specific gifts or debts, the smaller the residue.
For a Will to be formally valid it must be signed by the testator and two witnesses at the same time in the presence of each other. The witnesses must not benefit under the Will. This is the typical method for most Wills.
In Canada, inheritance law is constitutionally a provincial matter. Therefore, the laws governing inheritance in Canada are legislated by each province and territory.
Alberta: Wills and Succession Act (RSA 2010, Chapter W-12.2)
British Columbia: Will, Estates and Succession Act (RSBC, c 13)
Manitoba: The Wills Act (CCSM, c W150)
Northwest Territories: Wills Act (RSNWT 1988, c W-5)
Nunavut: Wills Act (RSNWT 1988, c W-5)
Ontario: Succession Reform Act (SO 2000, c 41)
New Brunswick: Wills Act (RSNB 1973, c W-2)
Saskatchewan: Wills and Succession Act (SA 2010, W-12.2)
Yukon: Wills Act (RSY 2002, c 230)
Nova Scotia: Intestate Succession Act (RS, c 236)
Newfoundland and Labrador: Intestate Succession Act (RSNL 1990, c I-21)
Prince Edward Island: Probate Act (RSPEI 1988, c P-21)
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