Earlier in the pandemic, the BC government issued a ministerial order that allowed for wills to be executed remotely in the presence of a lawyer. As of December 1, 2021, remote execution, electronic signatures and documents, and other modernization initiatives will be permanently allowed as a result of amendments to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act and the BC SCCR – no state of emergency required.
These changes are welcomed by many in that they allow more flexibility for folks who need to make a will but are unable to attend at a lawyer’s office or who do not have access to printers. However, the changes do open the door to a host of potential problems.
For example, lawyers are required to ensure that a will-maker is not being unduly influenced. It becomes difficult to assess this when a person is reviewing and signing a will via video-conferencing technology as the lawyer cannot necessarily see who might be standing behind the screen.
It also makes the job of an executor more difficult in that they are required to search for any and all potential testamentary documents of a deceased person prior to submitting what they believe to be the most recent testamentary document for probate. As the amendments allow the court to issue a grant of probate for a will that is created, recorded, transmitted or stored on an electronic device (such as a computer, tablet or phone) and signed electronically, executors will need to be more cautious and thorough than ever before in performing such a search.
It will be interesting to see how these changes play out in practical terms, but there may well be an increase in estate litigation given the foregoing concerns.
This article is intended for information purposes only and should not be taken as the provision of legal advice. Grace C. Cleveland is a lawyer with the law firm of Cleveland Doan LLP and can be reached at (604)536-5002 or firstname.lastname@example.org.