In a recent blog article, Estate Planning in a COVID-19 World, we discussed how the pandemic caused many individuals to seek to do or redo their wills. We spoke about the precautions our firm was taking to minimize health risks to our clients and staff. During this unusual time, our lawyers have assisted clients with preparing wills that have been executed in our offices before in-person witnesses, and executed in the client’s home with or without in-person witnesses.
Since May 19, 2020, we have also witnessed clients signing wills, power of attorney and representation agreements “electronically” following the Provincial Government’s making of two Ministerial Orders permitting witnessing through video conferencing during the state of emergency.
These provisions were greatly needed to eliminate or minimize the risk of transmission through the creation of important estate planning legal documents.
Lawyers and clients alike are now looking to the future and asking what happens after the state of emergency is over? Is this the beginning of a new virtual era in a historically ‘pen-to-paper’ area of the law? Will the Provincial Government make these provisions permanent? Maybe.
At the end of June 2020, the Government announced proposed amendments to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (Bill 21 – 2020: Wills, Estates and Succession Amendment Act, 2020) that would allow for the electronic creation, electronic signing and electronic witnessing of wills. If approved, electronic and paper wills can be signed by a will-maker and their witnesses while in each other’s electronic presence, which will may be signed in counterpart. The Bill also provides for the alteration of electronic wills by making and signing a new electronic will. Revocation of electronic wills would be limited to deleting the electronic will (except for inadvertent deletion). Finally, these provisions would be applied retroactively to March 18, 2020, and would repeal the previous Ministerial Order relating to electronic witnessing of wills during the state of emergency.
The Bill’s proposed amendments relate only to wills. As yet, the Government has not announced any proposed amendments to the Power of Attorney Act or the Representation Agreement Act. Amendments similar to those proposed for wills would also be welcome for power of attorney and representation agreements.
At Bell Alliance LLP, we are continuing to service our clients in a safe and responsible manner, whether in person (we have proper safety protocols in place) or remotely through telephone and video conferencing technology. Our staff and lawyers are available to assist you with your estate planning needs.