31 December 2020
Updating your will just got easier: B.C. legislates electronic witnessing
In September we reported on the introduction of Bill 21-2020, which included the proposal of a series of long-awaited amendments to B.C.’s Wills, Estates, and Succession Act that would allow a will to be witnessed electronically, by individuals in different physical locations. The valid use of electronic witnessing was enabled by an interim Ministerial Order (“M161”) during the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore effectively creating “contactless” wills in B.C.
As we boldly enter 2021, we are pleased to report that the use of electronic witnessing is now in-force, within the recently-amended Wills, Estates and Succession Act. Electronically-witnessed Wills are now valid in British Columbia, in COVID-19 times and beyond.
This new contactless approach has a direct benefit to public health by enabling physical distancing during the will process. By eliminating the requirement for witnesses to be physically present in the same room as the will-maker, the need for an in-person hospital or care-home visit can be eliminated entirely, and the risk of unnecessary exposure to viruses such as COVID-19 can be reduced.
Other benefits include improved access to estate planning services for those who are required to shelter-in-place, and increased access to legal services for those who live in remote communities.
These amendments follow closely the interim measures introduced via ministerial orders during the COVID-19 pandemic and apply retroactively to wills created after March 18, 2020. While other provinces created similar interim measures during the pandemic, B.C. is the first province to introduce such changes to its legislation.
Forthcoming amendments (not yet in force) will enable B.C. Courts to accept a will that is created, recorded, transmitted, or stored on an electronic device (such as a computer, tablet, or phone) and signed electronically, with no printed copy, so long as the will can be reproduced in a visible form.