Experts say adults should have a legal will as early as the age of 19, but a staggering number of B.C.'s young adults do not.

A survey conducted for BC Notaries found that 80 per cent of the adults polled under the age of 35 said they did not have a last will and testament. About half of adults of all ages have a current, legal will, the report said.

"I would say that it's probably one of the most important things you'll do in your lifetime," lawyer Hugh McLellan told CTV News.

"Right up there with buying your first house."

By law the estate of someone who passes away goes to their spouse, children or parents. But without a legal document, relatives must prove in court that they're entitled to the assets, which costs them money.

"It's an absolute horrendous experience if you don't have the will and you're trying to honour your child," said Tammy Morin Nakashima, president of BC Notaries.

Those with young children also need a will to legally determine who will be the children's guardian, should anything happen to their parents.

Anyone who is 16 years or older can write their own will by hand, but it must be signed by the author and two witnesses to be considered legal.

Experts don't recommend writing a will without legal guidance, because the wording can be tricky.

For example, a will reading, "I leave everything to Susan Jones. I leave my car to John Smith," would be subject to interpretation. How can Smith get the car, if Jones is entitled to all assets?

What if one of their names is misspelled? Then who becomes the beneficiary?

"Instead of spending a few hundred dollars on a will, you're going to spend thousands of dollars to have the will interpreted," McLellan said.

Notaries charge approximately $400 for wills, while lawyers charge approximately $1,000 and handle more complicated documents.

More information about writing a will in B.C. is available through the province online.

With a report from CTV Vancouver's St John Alexander