Making changes to your will

Having the incorrect name on a will is common. Here’s when updating is important



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making changes to your will

Q: “My brother is in his nineties and has left a share of his estate to someone using her maiden name. She has married three times since the will was made up. Will she still get her share of the estate, or not?  What’s the best thing for him to do in this type of situation where wrong will names are used?”

—Mel in Ottawa

A: The answer regarding wrong will names depends on the actual wording in the will. No one can give you legal advice without reading the will. So how was the beneficiary identifed or described in the will? Was the gift to my only “granddaughter” or my “niece from Winnipeg.” Then it may not make a difference if the person remarries or not. That is unless there are two Jane Does with the same identification and relationship. This also assumes the executor knows who is supposed to get the gift. Hopefully the lawyer who prepared the will has notes that clarify any possible confusion so names in the will are clear and the will may not need any fixing.

The best you can do is to have lawyers review the will. Your brother may have capacity to fix or clarify any issues with his will. Normally, you do not change your will every time a beneficiary marries. Every lawyer handles this issue differently when they prepare wills. In any event, lawyers can reassure your brother.

Here are some key money-saving tips to remember about wills.

Changing wills does not mean you can alter them  

Remember, changing your will is not the same as making a change “on” your will.

What if you scratch out your daughter’s last name on your will?

If you write on or alter your original will, you can be in trouble. You may make your will invalid. Changes to a will must be properly witnessed, dated and signed.

Courts can ignore changes on your wills unless they are signed in front of two witnesses. Wills are legal documents and courts can rule on their validity. If the will contains any irregularities, a court needs evidence to validate them. Court rulings are expensive and can cancel your will.

Ten reasons to make a new will

Some life events require new wills, not changes to an old one. I can give you this list to consider.

1       You divorce, separate or cohabit with a new partner.

2       Children are born or adopted and you need new guardians.

3       You now have grandchildren or stepchildren.

4       A person named in your will becomes ill, disabled or dies.

5       You need to change executors, beneficiaries, or charities.

6       Your assets have increased and you want more tax planning.

7       You start a business.

8       You move to another province or country.

9       You acquire major assets in another province or country.

10      Your children become adults.

Ed Olkovich is a Toronto Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law


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5 comments on “Making changes to your will

  1. Wills for my wife and myself were last updated after our 2nd son was born in 1980. The wills left assets to each other and then our sons. Executors were to be each other or our sons when they reached “the age of majority”. If we died in a common accident before our sons came of age a friend was named to be executor. This friend is no longer appropriate as an executor. However our sons are now adults and have families of their own, so unless a catastrophe involving all 4 of us should occur I think this particular choice of executor can be disregarded. The other anomaly is that the will still includes provisions for guardians of our sons – siblings of ours in the UK. However I think both sons would object strongly if we both died and the court ordered that they (and their families) should be looked after in the UK! So do we really need to update our wills at this point (or ever)? I don’t think so!

    By the way: if we did decide to update wills is it really necessary to engage a lawyer – or could we just do it ourselves?


  2. Why would I need a new will if move to another province? or when my children becomes adults?. My plan at retirement is to move out of Montreal and move to Ottawa.


    • Well I hope we get responses from Mr Olkovich, Mario. In the meantime I would suggest the reason to update a will after moving or when children grow up has to do with the legal interpretation or rules that might differ under these circumstances. I recall that I updated my will when I moved from Quebec to Ontario because the wording was no longer appropriate.


  3. Hello Moneysense,

    Is this just a one-way column where the author supplies some “words of wisdom” and then goes back to his regular job? If so then why bother accepting comments? Maybe “comments” is the keyword (as opposed to “follow on questions”) ? Can Mario and I hope for any response from Ed Olkovich?

    John McConkey.


    • Hi John,
      I’ve forwarded the comment to Mr. Olkovich who will reply shortly. Thanks, j.


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