The COVID -19 Pandemic created a state of emergency for British Columbia which left many stuck in quarantine. During this unprecedented time, residents and legal professionals alike were left questioning the ability to adhere to the rules for execution of wills under Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c13 (“WESA”). At the time the emergency was declared, WESA required an individual making a will to physically appear before two witnesses.
The Province declared a state of emergency and Ministerial Order No. M161 (the “Order”) immediately allowed the electronic witnessing of wills so that individuals in BC could make wills in a way that reduced the threat of Covid-19. The BC Legislature took further initiative and enacted Bill 21: Wills Estates and Succession Amendment Act, 2020 (“Bill 21”) in order to bring about some long-awaited changes to WESA. The enactment, which was passed by legislature on August 14, 2020, allows for the creation of valid electronic wills and the ability to have a will maker’s signature witnessed by electronic means. Bill 21 also introduces new electronic procedures for revoking and altering an electronic will. The Act will come commence by the creation of regulations at a future date.
Once in force, a will is valid under B.C. law if it has been created, recorded, transmitted or stored in digital form, with no printed copies, but can be reproduced in a visible form. Rather than appearing in person, the will maker can electronically sign the will by communicating using audiovisual communication technology, which enables people to communicate with each other by hearing and seeing each other. A witness who is in a different location will be in the ‘electronic presence’ of the will maker and will execute the will by signing complete and identical copies of the will in counterpart.
For many, these amendments will bring around a much-needed modernization to WESA. The Order and Bill-21 creates an opportunity not only for those socially distancing to create wills, but also residents living in remote or rural parts of the Province, those who have difficulty traveling, are unable to leave home or work and those who simply do not have easy access to lawyers
At FH&P we understand that each client will have varying needs. We strive to provide effective and efficient legal services to all our clients. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have questions about wills and estate planning, the recent amendments, or require assistance with signing documents electronically.
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