Last Will and Testament

Sometimes referred to as the “dead giveaway”, the last will is actually a complex legal document, where a person, referred to as the “testator”, directs the disposition of their property to take effect upon their death. While this is not the only way to dispose of such property upon death, the will is by far the most popular one. 

The most common misconception about a will is that it bears some sort of semblance to a contract. However, unlike a contract which is binding from the moment that the parties come to a consensus, a will is revocable by the testator until the moment of their death. While the beneficiary of the will may have an expectation of receiving a future inheritance, there is no legal obligation imposed on the testator not to subsequently revoke the inheritance and name a new beneficiary. Similarly, there is no legal entitlement on the part of the beneficiary to enforce the fulfillment of such a gift. Only upon the death of the testator do the legal obligation and the legal entitlement, respectively, become enforceable. 

In Ontario, a will is only valid if it is signed in accordance with the statutory requirements governing its proper execution. According to the Succession Law Reform Act, a valid will requires the signatures of the testator themself and two additional witnesses. Further, should the will proceed to probate, one of the two witnesses will be required to provide a so called, “Affidavit of Execution”, where they swear in front of a commissioner of oaths that they were personally present when the will was signed by the testator. Since an Affidavit needs to be sworn in front of a commissioner of oaths, most lawyers will have a staff member sign as the secondary witness and then immediately have them swear the affidavit of execution during the same meeting. 

In addition to the disposition of the testator’s property, a will may also deal with other matters. Some of these include a wish concerning the disposal of one’s remains, a wish that the estate trustee employs a specified individual or firm as the solicitor of the estate, and a wish concerning certain conditions that a beneficiary must fulfill to become entitled to receive a specified gift. Many of these clauses, however, may function simply as wishes. If they are to be legally binding, that should be clearly and unambiguously expressed in the body of will.

If a will, or a specific clause in it, is to be valid, it must express more than mere wishes on the part of the testator. It must express testamentary intentions regarding the disposition of the testator’s property. The simplest way of doing this is to use unambiguous, foreceful language, such as “I authorize”, “I direct” and “My Trustee Shall” among others. A will that does not include such language and seems to merely reflect thoughts or musings of the testator, may not be found to contain the proper animus, or intention, on the part of the testator to contain their last wishes and may not be legally binding. 

Finally, just as a will may be revoked only if the testator possesses the necessary intention to revoke it, so too the validity of a will depends on the testator’s possessing the necessary intention to create it. The Latin term used to describe this testamentary intention is “animo testandi”. In other words, a will must have been intended on the part of the testator to effectively represent his or her testamentary wishes. From this requirement flows the rejection as a valid will of a document that was prepared under circumstances the testator may not have possessed the necessary capacity to make a will or may not signed the will voluntarily.            

Recent changes to the Succession Law Reform Act, have allowed some flexibility in the creation of wills. Wills can now be found as valid if they “substantially” comply with the with the statutory provisions. What this means in effect is that the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario now has the power to validate improperly executed documents or writing under section 21 of the Act, such as wills. So long as the court believes that the improper document properly sets out the testamentary intention of the deceased, the document may be found to be legally binding. However, two important points need to be noted. The first is that this only applies to wills and documents made on or after January 1, 2022. The second, is that this still requires an Application to the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. A challenge, even if it is successful, could still end up costing thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the time, effort, and stress. The simplest and quickest way to ensure that your estate is distributed in the way that you desire is to draft and execute a will in strict compliance with the provisions of the Succession Law Reform Act.

This article does not constitute legal advice and was written solely to provide information. If you are seeking legal advice, please call Empel Law Professional Corporation at 416-500-1937. 

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Arkadiusz J. Empel urodził się w Katowicah. Jako dziecko emigrował do Kanady, razem z rodziną, lecz wrócił jako student aby ukończyć Pracę Magisterską w Krakowie. Przez swoją pracę z polonią w okolicy Toronto utrzymał władność w swojim języku ojczystym. Jeżeli Państwo życzy się skonsultować prosto z adwokatem Polski, proszę przedzwonić na numer 416-500-1937.