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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