Legal Studies 1030

Section 3 - Laws Related to Wills to and Estates

Lesson 13 - Types of Wills in Canada

In Canada, there are three basic types of Wills:

  • Formal Will
    This is a typed document signed by you in the presence of at least two witnesses (who cannot be beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries). It is wise to have a formal will prepared by a lawyer. The cost is well worth it when you consider the potential problems you'll avoid if improper wording is used or the document is not properly signed.
  • Notarial Will
    Similar to the formal Will, the notarial Will is only used in Quebec. It is prepared by a notary and signed before the notary and generally one witness.
  • Holographic Will
    This is a Will prepared entirely in your handwriting and signed by you with no witness necessary. Experts advise against holographic wills because they are subject to misinterpretation and challenge. Additionally, some provinces do not even recognize holographic wills as legal documents.

    The laws of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland allow for a holograph Will.

Another alternative is preparing your will with one of the many pre-printed forms or computer programs currently available. They are inexpensive, but your savings are small compared to the legal costs your beneficiaries might have to pay to settle your affairs. Additionally, if your will is not worded properly, some of its provisions may be legally invalid.

Case Study: Cecil George Harris
The Last Will and Testament of Cecil George Harris

Perhaps the most peculiar will in Canadian history—etched on a tractor fender by a dying farmer—tells a sad but fascinating story.

According to legal documents, on the morning of June 8, 1948, Cecil George Harris set out with his tractor in his fields near Rosetown, Saskatchewan. He told his wife and two small children he'd be working until about 10 p.m. that night.

About an hour later, Harris accidentally put his tractor in reverse while making some adjustments. The tractor moved backwards and trapped the farmer between the tractor and another piece of equipment, pinning his left leg under the rear wheel.

Harris remained trapped until 10:30 p.m. when he was found by his wife and taken to hospital where he later died from his injuries. Although conscious until the time of his death, Harris made no mention of the will he etched on the tractor fender using his pocket knife.

It wasn't until days later that neighbours, while surveying the scene of the accident, noticed an inscription on the fender: "In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris."

The fender was removed from the tractor and determined by the courts to be a valid holographic or hand-written will.

The etched fender remained on file at the Kerrobert Courthouse until 1996 when it was turned over to the College of Law for the purposes of public display. The knife and fender can be seen on the main floor of the College of Law library.