THE B.C. Government has introduced legislation to enable courts to accept electronic wills and to permit the remote witnessing of wills.
The changes will benefit British Columbians who, for example, have a disability, are quarantined, live in rural or remote communities, or would have difficulty attending a lawyer’s or notary’s office due to child care or other responsibilities.
Proposed amendments to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act will enable the courts to accept wills that are created on a computer and signed electronically, and for which there is no printed copy. The amendments will also allow the use of technology for the witnessing of wills by people who are in different locations.
“This modernization initiative was underway before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has made the reasons for these changes obvious to all British Columbians,” said David Eby, Attorney General, on Monday. “Requiring lawyers or notaries to tromp in and out of hospitals to satisfy legal requirements for wills that could be met easily with existing technology is no longer acceptable to the public. Happily, this is a shift that is endorsed by most practitioners, as well as leading law reform work already underway by a respected national body.”
In British Columbia, like many provinces, an emergency order was made to allow the remote witnessing of wills during the pandemic. By making this change permanent, this order will not be necessary going forward.
The amendments respond to concerns raised by the public and the legal profession about a lack of flexibility in the rules regarding wills. The changes are based on work being undertaken by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, which makes recommendations to harmonize and reform laws across the country.
“Making a will is important so your estate is distributed as you wish and the people you love and the charities and organizations you care about are provided for,” 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. Technology makes court applications, or the risks of these kinds of visits, unnecessary. COVID-19 has accelerated this necessary reform.”