Getting Your Document Ducks in a Row

In Canada, laws that govern estate and personal planning are unique to each province.

So, what are you buying when you use the services of a BC Notary or lawyer to prepare your estate documents?

  • You expect professional advice and service when you take the steps to prepare a Will and related documents.
  • You are also “buying” the credibility of the documents when they eventually need to be used, and you cannot speak for yourself.


A proverb found in several cultures comes to mind. “When is the best time to plant an Oak tree? Thirty years ago. When is the second-best time? Today.”

I can assure you from my own experience, and what I hear from our Notaries Public, that clients report finding significant peace of mind when they are supported through the process of preparing for what is “going to happen.” The passage of time and unexpected events will necessitate a return to estate planning several times in most lives. For example, when children become adults, and marital situations change, a review is always appropriate.


You will usually be asked to complete a questionnaire that serves to gather the factual details of your life situation and assets. That is an excellent time to collect and confirm important documents and information, including the details of your financial accounts and important assets such as real estate and other valuable property. It is a good time to verify the beneficiary designations on insurance policies as well as RIF and RRSP accounts. It is very common that this process turns up errors that need correction and changes that need to be made.

You almost certainly will have questions for your Notary, who can guide you through the process. The Notary will do necessary land title searches to confirm, among other things, the names used. Frequently this turns up information that needs to be referenced in the estate planning documents or corrected. Surprisingly, Notaries often find mortgages on properties that clients thought had been paid out or that they never even knew about.

In an in-person interview—or perhaps, “in these times” via Zoom - the information you have collected will be reviewed, and the necessary choices will be made. Clients are sometimes very reluctant to share and review the details of their assets and family structure. It is essential for that information to be discussed for two reasons.

  • If you do not know the “nature and extent” of your assets, you may not have the legal capacity to make a Will. That you do have capacity needs to be documented, as Court challenges to Wills based on an allegation of lack of capacity are becoming very common.
  • Details of assets are needed to ensure they will pass appropriately to your heirs.

For a Will you will need to make a number of important choices—most important, the selection of executors and the designation of beneficiaries. The same people will likely be named as you turn your mind to creating other important documents such as a Representation Agreement and a Power of Attorney. The Notary will guide you through the options and choices you need to make.

In BC, a “Wills Notice” can be filed with the Vital Statistics office. The form gives the details of when a Will was made and where it will be located. A search of the registry is mandatory at the time of application for Probate. The small fee charged may save your estate a very large amount of time and money.


Ron Usher is General Counsel and a Practice Advisor for The Society of Notaries Public of BC.

Posted in Personal Planning