B.C. recently amended laws to validate electronic wills and the electronic witnessing of wills
With recent changes in British Columbia giving electronic wills the same recognition as valid physical wills, those wishing to get their estate in order will allow them to do it more easily.
“The pandemic has meant many people have given a lot of time and thought to putting their affairs in order during a period when it has been difficult to visit a lawyer or public notary in person,” says Jessie Vaid, a co-founder of ReadyWhen. It is a digital platform that allows for “more proactive” estate management.
“The legal industry is taking steps in the right direction to recognize the digitization of wills,” he says, adding it is an “opportunity for more people to engage in estate planning and to ensure their final wishes are known and carried out.”
He notes that many of his clients don’t think about planning their estate until it’s too late. By moving to a digital platform, it will help “make the process faster, easier, and accessible for everyone and change behaviours so that more families are protected when someone they love passes.”
The B.C. Wills, Estates and Succession Amendment Act, 2020, introducing electronic wills, was brought into force on Dec. 1. It makes British Columbia the first Canadian jurisdiction to recognize electronic wills.
The new legislation recognizes electronic wills and permits the signing of remotely witnessed wills. The law recognizes remote witnessing if the parties are in each other’s electronic presence. That means they are communicating simultaneously via audio-visual technology that allows them to see and hear each other, almost as if they are physically present in the same location. Such parties can use assistive technology if they are visually or hearing impaired.
An electronic will is deemed signed if an electronic signature is found in the will or attached or associated to it so that it clarifies that the maker intended to make the whole will effective. A maker who wishes to alter an electronic will need to create an entirely new will.
Vaid says the growing acceptance of electronic wills and the signing of remotely witnessed wills will be a valuable tool in helping those who want to make plans for their estate upon death. “It really will make things much, much easier,” he says.
It’s estimated that only about 44 per cent of British Columbians have signed legally valid and up-to-date wills, according to B.C. Notaries. Across Canada, less than 50 per cent of Canadians have a completed will. And of those who have an estate plan, only 60 per cent have shared that information with others.
“When the inevitable does happen, it can take anywhere between two to three years to settle the estate,” Vaid says. “That means paying for professional assistance longer and spending an enormous amount of time playing document detective as your loved ones try to navigate the confusing world of estate settlement and management. The right planning now means less stress for your family later.”
Vaid says that there are relatively few digital tools available to store relevant documentation and the location of assets to make the job easier for executors and family members. Even dealing with assets such as loyalty program points, crypto-currency accounts, and passwords to security systems can be a problem. And finding a way to delete a social media account or turn it into a memorial to the person who has passed away is also tricky. Without access to passwords, family or executors cannot cancel subscriptions to keep money from draining out of the account.
“Historically, we have placed emphasis on wealth inheritance but what will become more prominent is the notion of informational inheritance,” Vaid says. That informational inheritance will help honour the legacy of those who have passed away.
Fortunately, Vaid says, more digital tools such as ReadyWhen have come online to help with estate management. Development of ReadyWhen started in January 2020, just before the pandemic outbreak, and it was launched last February.
ReadyWhen Teams platform allows the account holder to build a portfolio under assets, legal, digital, and health categories. Within these categories, there are subcategories (The assets category, for example, breaks down into areas such as property, vehicle, insurance, and pensions). All previous legal documents are archived and can’t be deleted unless a client directly allows it.
The owner can also grant access to a family member, lawyer, or financial expert while the client is still alive or after they have died. Vaid says that many of those planning their estates want to maintain privacy about their legal and financial affairs.
ReadyWhen follows a business-to-business-to-consumer business model, targeting lawyers and wealth advisors so they can onboard clients and give them tools. The access to ReadyWhen usually comes as part of the fees charged. However, they also market directly to consumers on a subscription basis.
Says Vaid: “Our goal is to change behaviour and get as many Canadians as possible to become proactive [estate] planners.”