If you already have a will, congratulations: you’re one step ahead of many people when it comes to estate planning! But even with a will in place, it’s a wise idea to review it regularly to ensure it doesn’t require any updates. These revisions can become necessary when major life events occur for either yourself or your loved ones. 

This blog post will canvass some of the most common situations that may call for updates to your will.

A new will or a codicil?

Note that once your will has been signed and witnessed, you can’t change it simply by writing on it. Once you have a valid will, there are only two ways to change it: by making an entirely new will or making a codicil. A codicil is a separate document made in a similar manner to a will. Codicils are usually appropriate when you only want to make a small change or changes to your will, such as changing one beneficiary or the amount of money you want to leave to a specific beneficiary. 

Major life events are key times to update your will

Major changes in your life are the most obvious situations in which a will revision might be necessary. These include:

  • Having your first child: You will need to think about who you would prefer to be the guardian of your child in the event you pass away while they are still a minor, whether you want to set up a trustee of your estate for your child, and who you would want to act as the trustee for any trust created for that child. It is a good idea to also structure any changes in a way that contemplates the possibility of future children. You don’t have to wait for a child to be born to make these changes!
  • Divorce: If you are contemplating a divorce you will probably want to rethink what your former spouse will receive as a beneficiary and consider where you may want to redirect any future estate proceeds. Note that in Ontario, even the act of legal separation cancels all bequests to a separated spouse, meaning that separation is effectively treated as similar to divorce. If you are reverting to a maiden surname, you will also want this reflected in your new will.
  • You get a windfall: Maybe you suddenly received a large inheritance or won the lottery, but a sudden and significant change in your financial situation may require a rethink in terms of how you divide your estate, especially where structuring things a certain way could lead to significant tax advantages.
  • Buying property in another country: If you decide to buy property outside of Canada different laws may apply and you may even need to consider a separate will for that jurisdiction. Consult with a lawyer to ensure that property can be transferred smoothly to your intended beneficiary.

Life changes of others may also require your will to change

In addition to changes in your own life, you may need to revise your will in the event that your beneficiaries, executors or trustees go through the following changes:

  • Your child gets married: Does your will contemplate what might happen if your child gets divorced? In cases where you wish to shield your own estate from a prospective future ex-son or daughter-in-law while still ensuring any future grandchildren benefit, there may be ways to structure your will to accommodate this.
  • A beneficiary develops problems: If you plan to leave significant sums of money to a beneficiary who subsequently develops financial or addiction problems, you may wish to consider updating your will to include trusts that give a third party (trustee) the power to distribute funds under certain circumstances. 
  • Executors or beneficiaries die: Suffice to say, your intended executor must be alive in order to help manage your estate for you. Consider listing a number of alternative executors and beneficiaries to ensure that you can be reasonably certain who will be in charge after you pass away.
  • Children become adults: In many cases, people name their spouse or parent, or in some cases siblings or friends, as executor. But if you made your will when your children were small and they are now (responsible) adults, they may be better placed to assist, and you may want to change your will accordingly.
  • Conflict between loved ones: If there is significant conflict between family members or friends who are named as parties in your will, you may need to speak with a lawyer to see what changes you can make to try to ensure that your wishes are respected as closely as possible. This is particularly true where the conflict is between family and friends given that one side (family) will usually have significant advantages when it comes to any dispute about your intentions.

Updating your will as the law develops

Laws change – including the laws that impact wills. If you see something in the news that you suspect might impact your will, consult with a lawyer to see if you should be making any changes to your will to keep it consistent with your intentions.

Did you lose your original will?

Making sure you have the real thing matters, as copies of wills can be very hard to validate. If you don’t know where your original will is, while many law offices will retain the original for you, you may need to get a new one.

Contact the Estate Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa and Arnprior for Comprehensive Estate Planning

Having clear and concise language when drafting a will can help avoid delays or costly litigation among the eventual beneficiaries. Tierney Stauffer LLP uses a client-focused approach and provides innovative guidance through the estate planning and administration processes. 

Our estate planning and estate litigation lawyers provide practical and honest advice to clients and represent their interests. We have extensive experience working with clients in estate planning matters and also representing them in litigation should it become necessary. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to set up a consultation with a member of our team.


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