Amendments to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act enable electronic wills and electronic witnessing of wills

23 June 2020

By Kevin Zakreski

With a bill introduced into the legislative assembly on Monday, the BC government is proposing two changes to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act.

First, the bill’s amendments will make permanent the changes on remote witnessing of wills that were enabled by a recent ministerial order. As a government news release explains,

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. . . . The amendments will [allow] the use of technology for the witnessing of wills by people who are in different locations.

Once the bill is enacted, the ministerial order will be repealed and the amendments relating to electronic witnessing of wills will be deemed to have taken effect on 18 March 2020 (the date on which a provincial state of emergency in relation to COVID-19 was declared).

Second, the amendments “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 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.

Under the amendments, an “electronic will” is defined as “a will that is in electronic form.” A will is in “electronic form” if it

  • is recorded or stored electronically,
  • can be read by a person, and
  • is capable of being reproduced in a visible form.

An electronic will is signed by an “electronic signature,” which “means information in electronic form that a person has created or adopted in order to sign a record and that is in, attached to or associated with the record.”

Under the amendments, “[a]n electronic will is conclusively deemed to be signed if the electronic signature is in, attached to or associated with the will so that it is apparent the will-maker intended to give effect to the entire will.” The amendments also give directions on how to alter or revoke an electronic will.

The sections of the amendments relating to electronic wills will come into force by regulation at some future date that the government has yet to announce.

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