How do I make a will?

Last reviewed May 2024 by the Clicklaw editors

There’s no official “form” for making a will in BC, but you must meet certain requirements for your will to be legally valid:

  • You must be at least 16 years old.
  • You must be capable of understanding the nature and consequences of the will.
  • You must sign the will on the last page in front of two witnesses.
  • These two witnesses must also sign the document (in BC the will does not need to be notarized).

Even if the will is valid, in BC section 60 of the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act allows for a spouse or children to challenge a will if you haven’t included or made “adequate provision” for them. A will can also be challenged on some other grounds. For more information see the People’s Law School page Challenging the Validity of a Will.

How do I know what to include in my will?

It can be tricky to write a will without prompts to remind you about everything you might want to include.

You can come to a Courthouse Libraries BC location during our open hours to use the digital version of a book in our collection called Wills and Personal Planning Precedents: An Annotated Guide. The digital version on our public computers has a “document builder” where you can choose clauses you want to add to your will, and then download a copy to take with you.

Beginning on page 16-7 of Wills & Estate Administration (pdf) (from the LSLAP manual), you can see what clauses are commonly used in drafting a will — and they even include some sample language.

Another useful site is the Courthouse Libraries BC page Wills & Personal Planning Resources. This page lists resources that can help, including a will-drafting practice checklist from the Law Society of BC, which has a checklist of topics it’s a good idea to include.

In general, when writing a will, you should consider:

  • Who will be your executor?
  • Who are your beneficiaries (who will inherit your assets)? Include any specific gifts you’d like to leave.
  • Would you like to set up a trust? A trust allows a third party (trustee) to hold on to assets for the beneficiaries.
    • If you create a trust, the executor will be the trustee unless you appoint a different person.
    • For example, if any of your beneficiaries are minors, you can set up a trust so that they don’t receive their inheritance until a later age of your choosing. You can also set up a trust for someone with a disability.
  • Select a guardian for any children under the age of 19 and any pets.
  • Include any specific wishes for your funeral or burial.

It’s a good idea to include a backup executor or guardian for your dependents in case the person you have chosen predeceases you.

Aside from a lawyer, a notary public can also help you prepare a will. The Society of Notaries Public of BC has a list of notaries at the “Find a Notary” link on their Choosing a Notary page. Please note, if you leave the search field empty and click “Search,” you can see a list of all registered notaries and the city in BC where they practice.

Does a will need to be a physical document?

A will has to be in writing to be valid. It can be typed, handwritten, or in electronic form.

As of December 1, 2021, a will can be signed and stored electronically. All unaltered electronic copies are considered “original” for filing with the court, which can make it easier for your executor to locate an original to complete the process of probate.

It’s a good idea to save an electronic will in PDF format, and print out a paper copy in case the electronic file is lost. A printout is the same as a photocopy which means it is not an “original,” but it may be used if the original is no longer accessible.

For signing and witnessing an electronic will, the will maker and their two witnesses must be in each other’s electronic presence (such as in a videoconference) per section 35.2 of the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act.

Section 35.3 explains that an electronic signature can be used. When creating a document in some standard word processors, you can include a digital signature line.

Okay, my will is written and witnessed. What now?

Once you’ve created your will, you may want to register it with the BC Wills Registry (managed by the Vital Statistics Agency). The registry doesn’t keep a copy of the will, but it does keep information about its existence and location. The first step an executor has to take when probating a will is to search for whether a wills notice exists.

How do I register my will?

You register the will by filing a form called a wills notice, which you can do online, by mail, or in person at a BC Services office. The wills notice contains:

  • Your full legal name and date of birth
  • The date you signed the will
  • The location of your will
  • The date you filed the wills notice with Vital Statistics

Then decide where you want to store your will. Some options for a physical will include:

At home

  • Is your executor able to access your home and find the will? Do they need a key or a passcode?
  • Keep your will protected from theft, fire, or flooding. A fireproof safe might be a good idea.

In a bank safety deposit box

  • To retrieve it your executor will need a key and power of attorney, or a death certificate and a copy of the will.

With the executor

  • This will be the easiest option for the executor.
  • Do they have a safe place to keep it?

At your lawyer’s office

  • If you have a lawyer, they may be able to store it for you, but remember, lawyers can move or end their practice.
  • If your executor cannot contact your lawyer, they can ask the Law Society of BC for assistance through an online form on their Lost Files and Wills page.
  • The BC Government Wills Registry page says: “If a search indicates that a will is stored at a law firm and you are unable to locate the law firm, check with the Law Society of British Columbia at 845 Cambie Street, Vancouver, BC V6B 4Z9, Telephone: 604 669-2533, Toll free: 1 800 903-5300.”

What if the location of my will changes?

If you change your will’s location or have any other information that should be updated, you should also update the wills notice by filing a new one. If you store your will at home you’ll need to do this if you move to a new address.

Let your beneficiaries or your executor know where your will is kept.

What happens if a will is not valid?

In some cases, wills may not be technically valid. Examples include if the will isn’t witnessed (a holographic will) or the will maker speaks their wishes in a video recording rather than putting them in writing.

If this happens, for the will to be used, someone must get a court order to “cure deficiencies” in the will under section 58 of the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act.

If the will does not properly explain the wishes of the will maker, for example if there was an error or omission in the will, but there is evidence of the will maker’s intentions, the will can be “rectified” by the court under section 59 of the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act. In such a case, the court will consider additional evidence of the will maker’s intentions.

Helpful services

  • Law School Legal Advice Program (LSLAP): This has in-person (Vancouver) and remote clinics run by law students at UBC. They give free legal advice on wills and estates, and may draft wills.
  • The Elder Law Clinic (Seniors First BC): The clinic gives free legal advice to older adults (55+) about advanced planning documents like wills and powers of attorney.
  • Nidus : This website has information and videos on personal planning.
  • Wills & Estates (Everyone Legal Clinic): The clinic prepares wills and powers of attorney on a lower-cost, fixed-fee basis.
  • Find more services.