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Ask the Money Lady: If I just write it down and sign it, does that qualify as a legal will?

Short answer is: No!
last will and testament stock

Welcome to the newest column on, Ask the Money Lady. Send your money questions to author and financial expert Christine Ibbitson and you may find she’ll answer your question (or something similar) in an upcoming column.

My husband and I both think it’s important to have a Will but we have not gotten around to it yet.  
We have been married for 10 years and have three kids.  If we just wrote down our wishes and signed it, would that be good enough?
Cindy B.

Dear “Too Busy” Cindy!

Dying without a Notarized Will, means you have absolutely “NO SAY” about any of your assets or care for your children once you die.  There are many people who think that a hand-written, signed and witnessed letter of direction should be enough, but it simply will not be accepted by a court of law as a substitute for a will.  Absolutely everyone should have a Will and at a cost of around $600, how can you afford not to!

Let’s just look at some of the immediate issues that will arise should you die without a will.  First, the Canadian government will immediately become the executor of all your assets: homes, bank accounts, investments, personal belongings, everything you own.  The government will then freeze all access until they have completed a full audit, which may take three to nine months.

Next, if there is no surviving spouse or adoptive parent, all minor children will become a ward of the province.  Family members will need to petition to the government for custody and fill out the required applications through social services.

Once your estate assets have been audited, all fees and taxation will be deducted before any disbursement to family. A surviving spouse is entitled to the first $200,000, with the remainder to be split to all those family members the government believes have a claim. This is always a long and arduous process that I have seen drawn out over many months as more and more family members put in a claim. For minor children, any monetary portion of the estate will be placed in a trust maintained by an appointed trustee until the child is 18 years of age. Extra funding towards education or extracurricular activities would have to be approved by the trustee and an application for each request would need to be documented.

Cindy, getting a will is the most important and most responsible thing you should do to ensure your hard-earned assets and wishes are taken care of when you die. Don’t leave it up to a stranger at a government office to make decisions for your family. It is your duty as a good parent to protect your estate for your children as well as have some say for their future care. You should also consider getting a power of attorney for property and medical direction should you get into an accident and not be able to make decisions about your own care or your family.

This is your opportunity to leave your mark! Don’t forget to plan for your death when you are planning for your life! Remember it will be your “uninterrupted final message” when you die. Make sure you have control – get a will!

Good Luck and Best Wishes,
Money Lady


Thank you to all those who read and responded to my article on wills. Your comments are all well intended and I know this can be a concern for most people. Here is a little more clarity. A handwritten will, signed with two witness signatures, is called a Holographic Will and is legally acceptable. The key is that it is completely handwritten by the testator, and not a typed document that is signed and witnessed. Will kits are also an alternative option for those on a tight budget although they are very generic and simple. If you have more specific instructions for alternate arrangements, guardianship for minors, debt forgiveness or specific instructions after your death, you may wish to have a lawyer prepare your will. It is always a good practice to seek legal advice.​​​​​​​

Written by Christine Ibbotson, author of “How to Retire Debt Free and Wealthy.” Chris is a chartered investment manager, insurance broker, commercial and residential mortgage broker, estate planner and taxation expert, with more than 25 years in Canadian banking. Follow her on Facebook & Instagram. If you have a money question, visit her website,