Save on legal services when writing your will

(NC)— The peace of mind that comes with putting one's affairs in order far outweighs the effort and expense needed to do it. Even though it is advisable to use the services of a lawyer or notary – to avoid making small, or big, or disputable mistakes – the cost of getting the guidance is usually far less than most people imagine. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions:

Can I write my own will without consulting a lawyer?

You can, but it's not usually advisable. Homemade wills are generally valid if certain minimum requirements are met, at least in some provinces. But there is no substitute for the professional expertise of a competent lawyer or notary.

Laws about will-making and taxes can vary from province to province. The specific wording needed to ensure that your wishes are met is important to keep in mind. A small mistake in a home-made will might cause complications to your estate and result in your wishes not being carried out.

What is an Estate?

Everyone has an estate, if they own anything at all. The term applies not just to real estate, but cash, cars, furniture, books, or any property at all.

The smaller your estate, the more important that it be settled quickly − delays usually mean more expense. And, your estate may be larger than you realize. Don't make the mistake of thinking of your property in terms of what it cost originally. In many cases, its value may have increased.

How much does it cost to have a lawyer draw up my will?

That depends on how simple or complicated the will is. But wills are usually much less costly than people expect and definitely less than the emotional and financial costs of not having one. Ask the lawyer in advance what it will cost. It's a question which they answer routinely.

What can I do to reduce legal fees?

Many things can be done, but here are five suggestions:

1. Lawyers charge for their time and knowledge, often by the 1/4 hour. So, the more time you can save them, the lower the cost will be. Jot down and take along with you all the basic information that will be needed, so you can avoid spending extra time in the lawyer's office.

2. Make a list of all your property, including life insurance, real estate, bonds, savings accounts, jewellery, RRSPs, family heirlooms and works of art—everything.

3. List the people you want to provide for, along with their addresses and their relationship to you.

4. Name the executor and alternate executor. The executor is the person you name in your will to carry out your wishes, settle your debts and distribute your property according to the terms of your will. Suggest a guardian and an alternate guardian for any minor children.

5. Think about the bequests you would like to make to your favourite non-profit organization, such as a health charity or Amnesty International.

An information package is available by writing to Amnesty International, 312 Laurier Avenue East, #419, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 1H9.

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