We discovered a little too late that last week was Will Week. Had we known this sooner, we might have posted this column on the importance of having a well-thought-through and legal will a week earlier. Instead, we will call up the oft-used cliché, “better late than never.”

No doubt most people would agree that it’s important to have a valid and current will. Even if one doesn’t have large sums of money, real estate, or other valuable assets, a will is very helpful for surviving family members. It provides instructions about how assets are to be distributed and how one’s non-adult children are to be cared for. Without a will, the courts will make these decisions. Next of kin may or may not be pleased with the courts’ decisions.

Perhaps the most important time to have a will is when children join the family. Surely all parents would want to leave instructions on how these children should be cared for in the event of the untimely death of both parents. The appointment of guardians is critical, as is the provision of financial resources for their care.

As children become independent adults, well established in their careers and perhaps with families of their own, their needs change. Wills should be reviewed every few years to ensure that they still express one’s values and wishes in light of a changing environment.

Many not-for-profit organizations, like Mennonite Heritage Village, benefit significantly when they are named as a beneficiary in a will. This is not to suggest that one’s family should be ignored in the will. Instructions can be included in a will to request that 10% of the net value of the estate (a “tithe”) be assigned to a charity or divided among a number of charities. Alternately, instructions can be included to assign a particular charity a share of the estate proceeds equal to the share being received by a child. No doubt there are many other ways to leave a legacy to a charity which has a mission that is important to the person writing the will.

There are numerous considerations in writing a valid will. The Mennonite Foundation of Canada has helpful information on their website at www.mennofoundation.ca. No doubt local community foundations and law offices will also have helpful resources.

In many cases lawyers will provide a package which includes a will, a Power of Attorney assignment and a medical directive. The latter two documents a particularly important prior to one’s death whereas the will applies to the time after death.

Writing and maintaining a will is one of those things in life that is really not a lot of fun but still very important. It’s difficult to ask people to include MHV in their wills. I heard of a funeral director who served coffee and doughnuts to seniors during the local street festival. While that style may not suit us, we do encourage people to put priority on writing and maintaining a current will.

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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