Don’t Have a Will? Here’s Why You Should Get One Today, with Erin Bury
Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.
Have you made your will? If not, what’s holding you back? Canadians give a lot of reasons for not having a will, from the complexity of it all to the perceived cost. For many, the idea of having to broach the subject of dying is enough to make them uncomfortable.
My guest this week is Erin Bury, CEO of Willful, a Canadian online will and estate planning company. Erin joins us to discuss why it’s so important for Canadian adults to have a will, and make sure it stays up to date. According to Erin, creating a will doesn’t have to be a daunting task.
Having a legal will is important because it’s the only way to guarantee that you will have the final say about what happens to your estate after you die. This extends beyond physical property ie. your house, car, or investment account. If you have minor children, for example, you’ll want to decide who will care for them if you’re gone.
With the help of Angus Reid, Willful commissioned a survey on wills that found that 57% of Canadians don’t have a will, including 89% of millennials. Considering that most adults should have one, these numbers are a bit frightening.
Thankfully, companies like Willful have made it easy to create a legal will online, at a very reasonable price. That said, online wills aren’t for everyone. Erin explains the types of situations where a will should be completed by a lawyer, and when it’s ok to go the online route. To find out more, tune in to this week’s episode of The MapleMoney Show!
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- 57% of Canadian adults don’t have a will, including 89% of millennials
- Why everyone over the age of majority should have a power of attorney
- Erin explains exactly who needs to have a will
- When should you consider updating a will?
- Did you know? An existing will becomes invalid when you get married
- What makes a will legally valid in Canada
- The biggest barrier to people creating a will today
- Understanding the Canada Will Registry
Have you made your will? If not what’s holding you back? For a lot of Canadians just the idea of having to deal with the subject of death makes them uncomfortable. Thankfully, creating a will doesn’t have to be a daunting task. My guest this week is Erin Bury, CEO of Willful, a Canadian online will and estate planning company. Erin joins us to discuss why it’s so important for Canadians to not only create a will but make sure it stays updated.
Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. There was a time when getting a copy of your credit report was a major hassle and would cost money as well. That’s no longer the case thanks to our sponsor, Borrowell. They’ll send you an updated credit report each month and share tips on how you can improve your credit. To get your free credit report, head to maplemoney.com/borrowell today. Now, let’s chat with Erin…
Tom: Hi Erin, welcome to Maple Money Show.
Erin: Thanks Tom, I’m excited to be here.
Tom: One of the mistakes I made was not having a will as soon as I should have. It wasn’t convenient. I ended up going to a lawyer at the time but it wasn’t something that you could just hop online and get a will. First of all, one of the things I was thinking was how many Canadians don’t have a will.
Erin: Well, you’re actually amongst the minority of people who have checked it off their to-do list. So whether you got it as soon as you should have or not you should be happy that you actually have taken care of it. We commissioned a survey with Angus Reid which found that 57 percent of Canadian adults don’t have a will. And that number jumps to 89 percent with Millennials (of which I consider myself an older millennial). I’m an ’85. That number is pretty scary when you think about the fact that pretty much everyone with a pet, children, a spouse, or any type of asset whether it’s $500 in an RSP or millions of dollars, you really should have a will in place. The numbers are pretty crazy. And about 10 percent of people who do have a will, it is out of date. They may have gotten married, had another child, or they just gone through another life change. So yeah, there are a lot of people out there who haven’t really protected their family by getting a plan in place.
Tom: Fifty-seven percent is bad but it wouldn’t surprise me if you had said something even higher. I just know how it was with me—the procrastination where it’s something you think you’re not going to need anytime soon. What kind of person needs a will? I assume if you’re married that’s probably one of the larger groups of people that really should have a will?
Erin: There are two main components to thinking about an estate plan. All of the legal components of an estate plan include the will and Power of Attorney. So anyone over the age of majority—over 18 in Ontario and most of Canada needs a Power of Attorney. That’s a document that assigns authority to someone to make both medical and financial decisions for you if you became incapacitated. If you’re a 20-year-old and still live at home with your parents and don’t have any assets to your name other than your parent’s credit card, you probably don’t need a will. But if you were driving down the road and got in a car accident you weren’t able to make those decisions for yourself, you’d want someone that actually knew what you would want in terms of your medical decisions. So everyone over the age of majority should think about getting a Power of Attorney document. They have different names by province but a “living will” is another way to refer to them. To actually put a will in place—once you have kids or a spouse—not just a legal spouse but a common law spouse which doesn’t take very long once you’re living with someone to turn common law. If you have a pet you might want to stipulate how you want your pet to be taken care of and leave some money for that person. And any assets. An asset could be a house. It could be savings accounts. It could be anything of value. And that might be sentimental value, so you might want to get a will just so you can stipulate who gets your family heirlooms or an important piece of jewelry or a great piece of art. Really, if you fall into any of those categories you should definitely be thinking about creating a will and definitely getting a Power of Attorney.
Tom: The Power of Attorney is a good point. I wasn’t thinking of that. No matter who you are, if you need someone to make medical decisions for you, it’s good that they actually can. Maybe you are that 19-year-old who wants your parents to be able to do that.
Erin: Yes, I know it’s a tough thing to think about. I’m sure if you’re listening to this you’re thinking, “Wow, this is a really fun topic on Maple Money podcast,” but it’s one of those things… I hear about cases like the Terri Schiavo case in the ’90s where she was in a vegetative state and her family was fighting over whether or not they should take her off life support or not. I think about what I would want in that situation. And I know definitively what option I would want for myself and I hate the idea that if I didn’t have a plan in place, people left behind would be arguing over that and maybe what I would have wanted to happen wouldn’t actually get carried out. So it’s definitely uncomfortable to think about in the moment. And no one, of course, wants to contemplate their own mortality but it’s one of those facts of life. I think, as a generation, Millennials are getting more comfortable with thinking about death and talking about death. At least I’d like to hope so. This is just a part of it.
Tom: I kind of forgot that as well actually. When my wife and I were sitting down getting our will done, it is a kind of an emotional thing at the time—when it’s your first will and not an update or anything like that. This is the first time you’ve actually really had to sit down and think about what happens if one of us dies, what happens with the kids, the possessions and everything. So there’s definitely an emotional aspect to that I’ve forgotten about since. But it’s definitely a good point. You mentioned that about 10 percent and haven’t updated their wills?
Erin: Yeah, they have a will that’s out of date because they’ve gone through a life change.
Tom: What are some of the things that would trigger that? I know when we did our will we actually made it as update-proof as needed. We were basically trying to account for not naming specific kids just and to just sort of spread it out equally. It was very simple where we just made sure everything was covered. Not that it will never need updating but we tried to make it to have some longevity. So what are some of the aspects people should look out for when they should update their will?
Erin: What we’re trying to get people into the habit of doing is looking at their estate plan once a year. Maybe around the time you do your taxes or as a New Year’s resolution when we all swarm to Maple Money to get tips for managing our finances for the next year. It’s one of those set-it and forget-it tasks right now. My mom, for example, has had a will for 15 or 20 years and she knows it’s out of date. We own a will company and she still hasn’t updated hers yet. But things have happened to her in the last 20 years. She went through a divorce so I’m hoping she’s updated it since then. A divorce is a big life moment where you definitely want to make sure that that person is not included in your will and that they won’t benefit if you were to pass away tomorrow. Some people don’t account in their will for future unborn children. They’re only naming one child they have right now so as soon as that second one is born, well guess what? Junior number one is the only one that is getting any of that stuff and junior number two is probably going to contest the will. Things like executors passing away or beneficiaries passing away or any deaths in the family that have roles in those wills. Pets if you’ve named a pet in your will. And again, any gifts of some value. Let’s say you get an engagement ring and you created your will when you weren’t married and you want to go back in and actually add heirloom to it. A lot of people don’t realize that any will you actually had becomes invalid when you get married. You really do need to make that update first and foremost when you get married. Then all of those other scenarios are good ways to think about updates. But really, you should add it to your annual to-do—your annual financial housekeeping. Just take a review of all of it to make sure it’s solid and then you never have to wonder when someone like me talks about it on a podcast whether your estate plan is actually up to date.
Tom: Do you need a lawyer to set up a will?
Erin: I think a lot of people probably think that Willful and lawyers are kind of at odds with each other. But I would say we respect and completely value the work that estate lawyers do to create wills. Lawyers are absolutely necessary for a large number of people who have complex estates. There are a whole bunch of scenarios where going to a lawyer is absolutely the right fit. And, if you’re just the kind of person who likes to sit down with someone and get specific advice, definitely visit a lawyer. But what actually makes a will legally valid in Canada is that it was written by you in sound mind. It was signed by you with wet ink and that it was witnessed by (and signed) by two people who will not benefit from your will. If your husband is your executor and your beneficiary then you can’t have him sign your will. You’ll have to get a neighbor or a co-worker to sign it. That’s really what makes a will legally valid in Canada. It’s not that it was created by a lawyer. When we look at tools like Willful, a lot of people say, “Wait, can we really do this online?” The things that make a will really valid have nothing to do with a lawyer. We’ve worked with estate lawyers in each province to create all of our content because we’re not lawyers by trade and we wanted to make sure that content is solid. It’s not actually required in Canada. But we definitely always say there is absolutely a place for four lawyers. They’re never going to disappear and tools like us are great for people who have simple estates where you have kids, a home, and some assets. They’re not great for people with complex estates. Examples of that might be blended families with multiple kids from multiple different partners, owning property all over the world, wanting to disinherit someone that’s not a fit. There are some scenarios where it’s definitely better to visit a lawyer.
Tom: Another thing I’ve ranted about a little bit on my blog before are these will kits. I remember them way back in the day, even seeing them like Staples and Walmart. They were these kits you could take home. Willful starts to sound a little bit like that. This idea that you can kind of do-it-yourself but there is a difference, right?
Erin: Yes. Think of will kits like mad libs where they’re a piece of paper that has a bunch of blanks and you’re kind of just filling them in. If your scenario or answers don’t fit or conform to that then there’s a lot of margin for error or leaving things out. We are definitely not purporting to be the most malleable solution where you can write everything you want and have all of the custom clauses you want. We’re definitely for those simple estates but think of ours as more of the Turbo Tax for estate planning. We’re taking a very complex scenario and using business logic by asking you a series of questions to then create a document on the back end that’s completely catered to you. If you come to a platform like Willful (or even our competitors like Legal Wills) we all have the same goal of getting people an estate plan in place. We very much promote everyone who’s doing this. You answer a bunch of questions and you’ll get a different experience based on your answers. So if you say you have pets and you have a child you’ll get a very different experience and set of questions than if you are single and you don’t have any pets or children. On the back end we create a document that looks very different for you in that scenario versus that other person going through the process. And I think it’s that business logic that kind of sets us apart from those fill-in-the-blank kits.
Tom: I assume Willful probably makes sure it’s complete. There is nothing on these fill-in-the-blank kits that really makes sure that everything’s been filled in.
Erin: Exactly. You can’t skip a section. We do have optional sections. Funeral and burial wishes aren’t legally binding but we do have sections for them on our platform because if they’re in your will your family members or executors they’re probably going to listen to those things. But people can skip those. You can actually write your own will. It’s called the holograph will where you take a piece of paper and say, “I, Tom Drake, want to leave my Maple Money blog to this person…” You can do that. It’s just that there is a lot of room for contradiction and error which is why you always see everyone pointing you toward lawyers or tools like ours instead of just taking a stab at it yourself with paper and pen.
Tom: You had mentioned this idea that it has to be printed, signed and the witnesses have to sign. Why is that? It seems like it would be something really handy if Willful could just store these online where people could pick them up when they need to.
Erin: Well, Tom, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think one of the biggest barriers to people creating a will today is that there’s still an offline component of it. We’re so used to being able to invest our money, do our banking and even buy houses completely digitally. But in Canada, the law requires you to print your will, sign it with your wet signature and have those witnesses. A lot of it comes down to validating who actually created that will. They haven’t necessarily figured out how we’re going to prove that Tom was actually the person who created that will online, who signed it digitally, and that’s who stored it. It’s not as simple as something like DocuSign as you know. When I’ve had people sign things for me on DocuSign at work it’s very easy to just go on and give your password over to have someone sign something for you. I think that’s why they’re probably not doing that. But I think we’re getting closer with things like facial recognition. Our goal, obviously, is to be able to leverage technology end-to-end so you could create your will and power of attorney documents, sign them and store them online and make updates really easily. Tool like the block chain could be an exciting way to make that happen as well because it’s a way to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. But we’re seeing other startups in the legal tech space. There’s a company called, Notice Connect, out of Toronto that’s building Canada’s first consumer facing will registry. I think their website is canadawillregistry.org. We’re partnering with them to give all of our customer’s free will registry. It’s just another step to try to help ensure that people’s executors know where the wills are until a time where we can actually store everything online.
Tom: What is the Will Registry? I haven’t heard of that before.
Erin: Yeah, it’s really interesting. The registry actually allows you—again, you can’t store your will online. Basically, the partnership with us means that if you create your will on Willful, we provide you with a code to register your will for free at canadawillregistry.org. It’s usually about $35. If you went to a lawyer you can still register the will. You just have to pay the fee. Basically, when you upload it you say, “I created a will on this date. It’s stored in this place and my executor is so and so…” If that person’s relative passes away and the relative who is the executor says, “You know what? I don’t know if Tom had a will,” they can go perform a search– pay to perform a search on canadawillregistry.org. If that person’s name matches the person set out by the original up loader, then they’ll release the location of the will. It’s a solution for someone like Aretha Franklin who recently passed away. Their family couldn’t find a will anywhere and year later found this handwritten will in the couch cushions. Not ideal, Aretha. But it’s this idea of a lot of times we have the best intentions. We create our will, assign an executor and then put it in a filing cabinet and completely forget to tell someone where it is. So when that person passes away, their executors and families are really struggling to actually find it. So Patrick is really trying to make it easier, not to actually provide you with the copy, but provide confirmation that it’s actually there and where to find it. I think it’s a really great “first step” but obviously both of us would really like to see complete digital signage and storage.
Tom: Yes, like you mentioned with the facial recognition, I’d say that beats a signature, actually. Signatures can be forged. I hope the laws will change at some point where we can go all digital with this but we’ll see.
Erin: As soon as I get a million dollar lobbying budget I’m on it. Until then we’re just going to focus on getting as many people as possible, traditional wills. And hopefully, technology will change faster than that than we can.
Tom: We talked about how this is an emotional thing especially when you’re doing the first will and hit the wall where you really had to think about this. Before you go to Willful or go to a lawyer, what should you know in advance? Is there a will to-do list before you go to actually make a will?
Erin: I think there’s definitely some key conversations that you have to have and key roles that you have to assign. I think it’s a misconception that wills are this cumbersome thing where you have to have all this paperwork. You don’t need to bring your bank statements and your life insurance and all of these various things but you do need to know who your executor is. Who is the person that’s actually going to be responsible for putting this plan into action? And you should talk to that person to make sure they’re up for it because that’s a big role. It’s a lot of work. You might also want to assign a corporate executor versus an individual so that you don’t have to put anyone through that role. You want to think about guardians both for pets and for children. And again, these are rules where you don’t just put them in your will and walk away. You should talk to those people first so that when you actually sit down to create the will, you know this is a person who’s actually up for that job and has agreed to it. Then you just need to think about the people who you want your money to go to—your assets. How do you want that distributed? Is it very simple or do you want to make sure that there’s some money going to charity? It’s always great to think about leaving a legacy gift. Then some of those optional things like funeral wishes. Again, you might be the person that avoids that like the plague and you don’t want to think about that yet but for your Power of Attorney documents you want to think whether you’d want to be kept on life support. How much pain medication would you want if you were going through something. Just thinking about some of those topics and then definitely having the conversations with your partner, executors and/or guardians to make sure they’re up for that role should the worst case scenario arise. My worst case scenario would be me never agreeing to look after someone’s kid and all of a sudden I’m an instant parent during a really difficult time. Don’t surprise anybody.
Tom: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered here that I’m missing? Is there anything important when it comes to getting your first Will?
Erin: I think all the stuff outside of the will are the things that keep me up at night. A will is great but it really only says who gets your money and your stuff. It doesn’t really tell everyone what you want to happen with your Facebook accounts and where you would want all of your digital photos to go and if you’d want a final tweet posted on your Twitter account. And where you actually have life insurance and your bank accounts. These are all details we mostly hold up in our own heads and don’t necessarily share unless you’re with a partner who is very in-tune with the finances. Usually, one person handles the finances while the other one maybe doesn’t have those breadcrumbs. I was just telling you earlier I created a Google Drive folder called, When I Die that I shared with my husband who was a little horrified when I did. Although, he’s the co-founder at a will company so death is kind of a daily normal for us. But it had all of those things; our mortgage documents, a list of all of the subscriptions he would need to cancel, what I would want done with our businesses and who I would want my shares passed on to. These are just all things that you might not contain and a will but that are still integral to wrap up someone’s life. So definitely think about getting that first will and getting the legal documents in place but also think about all of the intangible things that come with legacy. Again, if you just put it a bit down on paper at a time and review that every year, your family will thank you so much when the time comes because it’s cutting down on hundreds of hours of work for them.
Tom: It’s a good point. I’m very behind on doing this as well. Everything so digital nowadays. There are hundreds of sites. There are passwords for those. I like the idea of the final Tweet and all that too. I like what you said too, to just do a little bit at a time because I think part of what’s been stopping me from doing this is the idea I have to sit down and put my entire digital life into a document in one evening. But just even to do sections of that is a good start in (hopefully) half the time, you’ll get it all done before it actually matters.
Erin: Yeah, that’s kind of what we’re working toward is not just helping you create a world but helping you deal with everything in and around that and nudging you to complete a little bit over time so maybe we’ll be able to help you out in a little while.
Tom: That would be a great feature, actually, because I think it’s something that people don’t think about at all. I haven’t done it yet either. Everything so digital now that if you can’t get into those accounts, you can have a lot of issues. There could be separate bank accounts you might need to get into. Even if you’re the beneficiary, it make take awhile. There is a lot of digital mess nowadays. If Willful gets to the point helping out without that, it would be great.
Erin: Digital mess is a good way to put it. We help you clean up your digital mess. I’m going to trademark that, Tom.
Tom: Thanks for being on the show. Can you tell everybody a little bit more about Willful and where they can go to find out more about it?
Erin: For sure. Willful was founded by my husband and I. It was inspired by a personal experience seeing how difficult it was to close up a family member’s life. You can check it out at willful.co. We created all of our legal content with estate lawyers in our active provinces. And again, we’re not necessarily the right fit for complex scenarios but if you think you have a pretty simplistic scenario, you’re probably going to be okay on our . And, we have live chat on our website where you’ll probably be chatting with myself or with my husband if you do chat with us. We’re happy to answer questions. I believe we have an awesome Maple Money link in the show notes or on the Willful review where you can see Tom’s entire review and see more about the experience.
Tom: We’ll link to our review on the show notes. Thanks for being on the show.
Erin: Thanks for having me, Tom.
Thank you, Erin for showing us why it’s so important to have a will and a Power of Attorney. You’ll find out more about Willful at maplemoney.com/willful. You can get the show notes to this episode at maplemoney.com/erinbury. I’d like to know what topics you’d like to know more about. Feel free to reach out via email at [email protected] with any topic suggestions or guests you think I should have on the show. Thanks for listening and stay tuned next week as Larry Bates joins me to uncover some of the investing secrets that Bay Street doesn’t want you to know about.