I picked this simple topic for a group writing project by Canadian bloggers on Wills and Estate Planning because as a lay person, my understanding of this complicated topic can be boiled down into two sentences:

  1. It is extremely important to have your wills done, especially if you are going through a significant change in your life such as the birth of a child, a divorce or remarriage.
  2. Find a good lawyer and have him explain the intricacies of a will, power of attorney for personal care and continuing power of attorney for property to you.

Though will kits are an option, we decided to get a lawyer to prepare our wills. I asked around for references and found one through a friend. As our situation is quite simple, the lawyer quoted $300 for a standard package, which seems to be the norm in the Ottawa area.

A lawyer should explain to you the intricacies of a will (how your estate will be distributed, designate guardians for your children etc.), power of attorney for personal care (also called a “living will”, it specifies who takes personal and medical decisions should you become incapacitated. Remember the legal battles surrounding Terry Schiavo?), and continuing power of attorney for property (appointing someone to deal with your property on your behalf).

Most of the decisions surrounding these documents were easy for us — one spouse named the other as the beneficiary of the estate, guardian for the children etc. For the longest time, we got stuck on who should be the guardian for the children and who should be the executor of the estate should something happen to both of us. I suspect this will be a topic for contention for most couples.

Once you get your wills done, don’t forget to let your executor know where the original is located.

[As I mentioned earlier, this post is part of writing project on “Wills and Estate Planning” by a group of Canadian bloggers. You may also want to check out The benefits of a professional executor (not to be confused with an executioner) by Where Does All My Money Go?, Top five myths about wills by Thicken My Wallet, Why you need a will and the basics of estate planning by Million Dollar Journey, Six common mistakes on a will by the Financial Blogger and My last will and testament by Four Pillars]

This article has 16 comments

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  4. $300 seems quite reasonable for a will and POA.

    Neither lawyers nor clients like to talk about fees, but don’t be afraid to call around to get an idea of prices in your area. No lawyer worth his salt will commit to a price over the phone, but you should be able to get a good ballpark figure. And as always, don’t necessarily pick the cheapest!

  5. Here in Québec wills and POAs are generally handled by notaries. We used the same notary who handled the purchase of our home, and while she was expensive we felt she was worth it. She spent almost two hours with us going over everything in detail, explaining it in plain English (well actually it was all in French but you get the idea) and making sure we understood the ramifications of the choices we made. Our situation is a bit complicated because both of our families are in different countries (mine in the US, my spouse’s in France), so we have nobody in Canada who could serve as executor.

  6. As strange as this might seem, many lawyers regard the drafting of wills as a “lost leader”. This is because it takes time and care to draft one correctly, and lawyers realize that even fewer clients would request the service if they had to pay the true cost. At the same time, lawyers see it as an opportunity to pick up new clients who may need them down the line for other work.

    The bottom line is that in most cases, when you engage a lawyer to do your will, you are getting a bargain.

  7. When we bought our house, we were able to use the same lawyer who did that legal work to prepare our wills and power of attorney. I agree with CC, having a lawyer prepare it was easy and quick, he sent over a list of questions and we filled them out and then got about 30 pages in return. In addition, they keep a copy of the will in their offices in case something happens to the copy we have. He did make a good suggestion, which was to include the account # and other information of any bank or retirement accounts we have with the wills, which will make it easier for family members to get access to them

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  9. Thanks for the mention. Does the $300 quote include power of attorneys?

    I gave copies of my wills to my executor and back-up executors. A good lawyer will make extra copies for distribution to the executors.

    As a practical point too- if you are younger, don’t get a really old lawyer to do your will. He/she is close to closing up shop so the executor will have to contact a law office where the lawyer has either left or passed away and they have to dig through records etc. Just adds another level of grief to the entire process.

    In bigger cities, there are family law “boutiques” who do wills, family law etc., they at least have the capabilities to store thousands of wills from various lawyers in a vault.

  10. Canadian Capitalist

    MGL: The lawyer did first ask about our situation before saying that our wills are straightforward and hence the figure he quoted. I notice that in Ottawa, many lawyers are open about their fees for simple cases.

    brad, MF, Novice: Thanks for your comments and tips. I also found this blog that talks a lot about the legal aspects of wills:

    http://rulelaw.blogspot.com/

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  15. Great post – and I liked Thickenmywallet’s post as well. The price seems very low to me too, even for a simple will. Our fee for 2 wills is $450, plus $75 for each power of attorney, and $75 for each living will.

    I sometimes drop the price for compelling clients, but most of the time I think it is fair. Half of the risk and headaches that come along with wills is the risk that a disgruntled beneficiary will challenge — so there’s no way to really tell what is or isn’t a “simple will”. Yes, it’s a piece of paper, but that piece of paper is used to distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars and coordinate the family members who are left behind.

  16. You really can never be too careful. My grandpa was in insurance, and he always advise getting life-insurance from an early age and having a will that’s updated. What do you think the appropriate age of drafting one is. though?

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