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Alberta Wills: Frequently Asked Questions

Should my spouse/partner and I have a joint will or separate wills? Do joint wills or mutual wills make sense?

If you and your spouse/partner see eye-to-eye on how to disperse your estate, a joint will may seem like a viable option. We do not recommend joint wills or mutual wills, however, because they are difficult to change after the death of one of the partners. This means that if your spouse dies and you change your mind about what to do with your estate, you may not be able to make the changes you desire.

You and your spouse/partner should make separate wills, even if they say the same thing. Read more about mutual wills, joint wills, and mirror wills here.

How do I change my will?

Alberta Wills can be changed at any time simply by visiting your lawyer. The changes should be made in a separate document called a codicil. You will need to have two witnesses sign your will after you've made your changes. We recommend that wills be reviewed about every five years and when something significant happens in your life, such as a marriage, death, divorce, birth or change to your finances.

Wills can also be revoked. You can revoke your will by destroying the will or by writing a codicil that states that you are revoking the will. In some situations, wills are automatically revoked, such as when you get married.

Consider making an entirely new will when you need to make major changes and using a codicil for small changes. The most recent Will is followed after your death unless it is not a valid and legal document.

Do not just cross things out and make handwritten changes on the copy of the will you keep at home. These changes to wills are often deemed invalid.

What is a codicil?

When you want to change your last will and testament, you can simply write up a codicil or variation. This is easier than revoking your will and writing a new one. Codicils must meet the same requirements as wills in that they must be witnessed by two people (conventional wills) or be handwritten and signed (holographic wills). Read more about holographic wills here.

What is mental capacity to make or change a will?

Unfortunately, wills and estates can cause conflict in families. Typically, you are deemed mentally competent or as having the mental capacity to make your will as long you know what you're doing and what wills are, understand that it is typical to include certain people in your will (such as children) and know what you own.

Sometimes, when people age, their adult children or others become concerned about someone influencing them to change their wills. If someone pressures you to make changes to your will or to make a new will that benefits the person doing the pressuring, that person is unduly influencing you. We recommend seeing your lawyer alone so you can write your will or make any changes without worrying about what anyone else thinks. Your last will and testament is your own business and other people do not have the right to tell you what to do with your property.

If you need to prove your mental capacity, you can arrange to be tested by a professional. If you are found to be incapable you can ask for a review.

Why do I need witnesses to my will?

Witnesses are proof that you are the person who signed the will. They don't have to read your last will and testament; they just have to watch you sign and then sign themselves. Your witnesses cannot benefit from your will and must be at least 18. Although executors can witness wills, spouses/partners cannot. Note that if witnesses are not confident in the mental capacity of the person making the will, they should not witness the document.

Where should I keep my will?

Wills can be left in the care of your lawyer or stored in a safe place, like a safety deposit box or a fireproof safe or box in your home. You should tell your executor, your wills lawyer and anyone else who needs to know, such as your spouse/partner, where they can find a copy.

Can a minor make a will?

In most cases, you must be 18 to make your will. But if you are under 18 and have a child and want to leave your estate or a portion of your estate to the child, you are legally entitled to make your will.

If you are in the Canadian Armed Forces and on active duty or are a mariner, you can write your own valid will and sign it or have someone sign it for you in your presence.

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