Electronic Wills are Here to Stay

In the middle of May, and in response to the global pandemic making face-to-face meetings challenging, the BC government issued two emergency orders that suspended in-person execution requirements for wills, health representative agreements and enduring power of attorney documents.

These emergency orders allow legal professionals to assist their clients, especially seniors and immune-compromised people, who wanted or needed to execute these documents but couldn’t or shouldn’t travel from their homes. The emergency orders are tied to the provincial state of emergency and will expire when it is lifted.

But in this day and age, when you can sign most other legal documents digitally, why is this only a temporary measure? Well good news was announced last week by BC attorney general David Eby in the form of proposed changes to the province’s legislation governing wills and estates that would make these provisions permanent.

“This modernization initiative was underway before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has made the reasons for these changes obvious to all British Columbians” said Eby. “With this change, lawyers and notaries will no longer have to tell very sick people that there needs to be a personal visit in the hospital, or a court application, before their wishes can be recognized” he added.

Similar proposed legislative changes are being looked at across the country based on work by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, which makes recommendations to harmonize and reform laws across the country.

This is great news for British Columbians as well as other provinces that follow suit! A recent survey found that 51 per cent of Canadians don’t have a will and it is safe to assume that even fewer have a health representative agreement or enduring power of attorney document.

At the same time, the interest in getting ones’ estate affairs in order has risen dramatically. A Toronto based online will service reported a 620 per cent increase in sales in early April vs the same time a month before. A similar spike in life insurance applications has been seen during the same period. These very important things that many have been putting off for far too long are finally getting the attention they deserve.

Dying without a will risks having your assets distributed according to a provincial formula, which varies across the country. Minor children would go to whoever applies to be the guardian, even if it’s a relative you didn’t like. And pets most often end up in shelters. It typically takes much longer to administer an estate and often leads to arguments among family members.

If one good thing comes out of the COVID pandemic, it will be that many people are finally taking the time to get their estate affairs in order. And these proposed changes to legislation will make it that much easier to do so!