Do I need to update my will if my family member changes their maiden name? - MoneySense

Is a name change on a will a game-changer?

Hello name stickers alongside markers, to symbolize a beneficiary deciding on the name to write down

My will is made out with my daughter as executrix in her married name. However, all of her IDs are in her maiden name. Do I have to see a lawyer to change this on the will? There are no other changes to be made.—Christine 

How a surname change can impact a will

Thanks for writing, Christine. This is a great question and something I’ve encountered with other clients when administering an estate. Let’s start with reviewing the impact on the will if no updates are made, as well as the options for updating the will to reflect the different surnames. We’ll outline these scenarios to get a sense of what typically happens when you change or don’t change a will. 

What happens if you decide not to change your will

A will should be a “fluid” document that is reviewed and updated approximately every five years, or when major life events occur. However, life does get in the way, and we can end up with a will that’s 10 years old (or older!).

After we create a will, we carry on with life, and so do the loved ones named in the will, including the executors who administer the estate, and beneficiaries who inherit the estate. Sometimes the person named as executor (or in your case, executrix) gets married, divorced or even uses a combination of surnames, much like your daughter, Christine. Updating your will to reflect the name change does not necessarily need to happen if she has all the proper identification for when the time comes to administer the estate. 

The estate administration process includes a lot of paperwork and it tends to start after a death. Probate (also known in Ontario as a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee) confirms the deceased’s last will and testament (if there is one) and officially appoints the executor. 

This task requires an application that outlines the details of the deceased, the executor, the beneficiaries and the estate’s holdings. The professional (lawyer, accountant or a corporate trustee) who will assist your daughter as the executrix can list the name she uses on her government identification cards (for example a driver’s license or a health card). She will be able to reference this application back to the will. It might look something like this: 

Sara Smith (referred to in the will as Sara Johnson)

This is also how spelling errors with names in wills are dealt with. As you can see, your daughter would be able to move forward with her requirements by having the documents for probate prepared in this manner, therefore eliminating the need to update your will if you do not want to.

What happens if you update your will because of a surname change

Now that we have reviewed what it can look like when you don’t update your will, Christine, let’s look at your options if you decide to make changes. 

Creating a brand new will is really only necessary when major changes are needed. But, for a name change, you could always have a codicil created. A codicil is a legal document that allows you to update a particular item or paragraph of a will without having to create an entirely new will. Instead, the codicil references the will and identifies the section you are changing.

This can be a cost-effective approach, if you only have a couple of items to update. Seek out a lawyer to prepare this document to avoid any errors or unintended consequences, such as voiding your will or creating confusing or conflicting language changes.

Can I update a will that was created online?

Suppose you created your will yourself using an online platform, such as Willful.ca or LegalWills.ca. Updates are said to be easily done through the platform by updating will. Then you just print and sign it (along with witnesses too). However, signatures can be done digitally if you live in BC, but other provinces do require a signed printed copy. This process isn’t just updating a will—it’s in fact creating a brand new will. With Willful, the modifications are included with your subscription, according to CEO Erin Bury.

To update or not to update?

As you can see, Christine, you have options for how to approach your daughter’s surnames in your will. I hope you find it helpful to know that if you do not do anything to your document, both of the names your daughter’s uses will be on all the estate documents. And, if you choose to update your will, there are easy lower-cost options for modifying to your will.

Thanks for writing.

Debbie Stanley is the CEO and senior estate administrator at ETP Canada, a boutique firm located in Guelph Ontario, specializing in estate administration. ETP Canada helps executors navigate their role with services such as executor support, estate accounting, professional executor services and recently launched an online course designed for Canadian executors called Executor Ready.

Read more on estate planning:

  • How does an executor pay estate expenses during the probate process?
  • What are the fees for becoming a joint tenant on a parent’s property?
  • Can you avoid probate taxes on TFSAs?
  • How to leave money to your grandkids
  • Do I need to update my will if my family member changes their maiden name? - MoneySense