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John Brown: Will kits — getting what you pay for

John Brown
John Brown - Contributed

Out of all the things lawyers do in a typical practice, drafting a will may well be the simplest task.

Many people have straightforward hopes and expectations about passing on property to their survivors and family members. Many of the more recent wills I wrote were only two or three pages long.

From a legal point of view they can be routine, even easy. That being said I do not recommend will kits. You can get a will kit now in book stores, off of the internet of course, and even in many gas bars, right next to the potato chips.

They are flashy, they provide simple instructions to follow and many come in a number of different colours. But they cannot answer any ‘what if’ questions that may arise. They cannot stop you from false assumptions, and they cannot warn you if your document will not do what you thought it would.

Sorry folks, but you should still get a lawyer.

Not that we make much money in this area.

Unless you have extravagant property holdings, your will may cost as little as $100-200. That is less than some lawyers charge for an hour of their time. At that price the real question would be why wouldn’t you get a will done by a lawyer?

In my own practice, I have had clients who thought they owned property that they actually did not own, as well as those other clients who thought they were not getting anything but who had unexpected windfalls.

These cases arose from will kits documents that left the deceased uninstructed and uninformed over basic questions and issues and accidentally giving the estate to the wrong person.

It is tantamount to looking at the directions on a pill bottle and calling it physician’s advice. And the intentions of the deceased in those cases were never accomplished.

To understand what it is like to have to tell someone that even though their loved one had always told them that they would get something like an heirloom, or maybe something more expensive like a house, it won’t happen now because of blind trust in a will kit. You have to see it with your own eyes. It is tragic and easily avoidable.

And this is not a shill for your hard-earned dollars.

Many lawyers offer free wills as an incentive to use their work in other areas. And as I said earlier wills are inexpensive, at least insofar as a lawyer’s work products are concerned.

Really if you have loved ones you should get a will done. If you want your daughter to get mother’s silver handle mirror, or sonny to get the old man’s putter, then spend a half hour in a lawyer’s office, pay about the same as brunch for two at ‘Raymond’s’, and you are done.

After that it’s common sense.

Place the will in a safety deposit box, or a home based fire box, or at least somewhere somebody is certain to find it when that final day comes.

Sometimes, when the original will cannot be found, people go to the lawyer for a copy, but there is a catch.

The court would have to ask why the will went missing in the first place.

If a will cannot be found, it may be that the deceased did not want that will anymore and destroyed it. That can happen. And if that is the case, a copy does not solve your problem.

People need wills for different reasons.

If you have small children you want clarity on who takes care of them and who takes care of their money and property.

Maybe your mother lives with you and you want to give her a life estate so she can live in your home after you die, but after she dies the home is to revert back to the possession of your children.

And then there is the cost.

If a person dies without a will, their family has to go to court to divvy up their assets, and it may not be a reflection of what the deceased wanted.

The expense of this process is a lot more than a will would have set you back. They don’t tell you that in the will kits.

John Brown is a lawyer based in Bay Roberts. He can be reached by email at jb@johnbrownlaw.ca.

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