What I’m Reading: Interesting Estate Litigation Articles for October 2021

The following is a roundup of noteworthy articles published this month on estate litigation and related issues:

  1. Suzana Popovic-Montag at Hull & Hull LLP (in Ontario) discusses an Ontario case in which the will-maker included an option to purchase in their will: https://hullandhull.com/2021/10/options-to-purchase-and-wills/
  2. Natalie Kodsi at WEL Partners (Toronto) discusses the reluctance of the courts to remove a named executor, with reference to a recent Ontario court decision: https://welpartners.com/blog/2021/10/larmon-v-munro-the-courts-reluctance-in-removing-a-named-estate-trustee/
  3. The Globe and Mail recently published an article on why digital assets ought to be included in your estate plan: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/investing/globe-advisor/article-why-your-digital-footprint-needs-to-part-of-your-will/
  4. Douglas Todd recently published an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun addressing the large-scale transfer of inter-generational wealth that is happening in Canada: https://vancouversun.com/opinion/columnists/douglas-todd-canadas-bank-of-mom-and-dad-returning-us-to-19th-century-inheritance-culture

Happy reading!

B.C. to Allow Electronic Wills and Remote Witnessing of Wills

The Wills, Estates and Amendment Act, 2020 will significantly change how a person may make a will in British Columbia, effective December 1, 2021.

Previously, a will had to meet all of the following requirements in order to be valid in British Columbia:

  1. It had to be in writing;
  2. It had to be signed at the end by the will-maker, or the signature at the end had be acknowledged by the will-maker as his or hers, in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time, and
  3. It had to be signed by two or more of the witnesses in the presence of the will-maker.

The amendments will allow for the execution of electronic wills, which are wills that:

  1. Are recorded or stored electronically, which means in a digital or other intangible form by electronic, magnetic, or optical means or by any other similar means;
  2. Can be read by a person; and
  3. Are capable of being reproduced in a visible form.

This means that as of December 1, 2021, a person can prepare and electronically sign a will, with no physical paper copy having to exist.  The amendments allow for the use of an electronic signature, and for the execution of the will to be witnessed electronically (i.e. remotely, by video).

In order to amend an electronic will, a new will must be made.

The amendments reflect some of the temporary measures implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic by way of ministerial orders, to allow for remote execution of wills. According to the Canadian Bar Association (B.C. Branch), these new changes are intended to respond to concerns raised by the public and the legal profession about a lack of flexibility in the rules regarding wills.

These changes certainly will provide greater flexibility and ability to the public to make wills, both during and outside of a pandemic.  However, as electronic wills become more common, problems may arise.

The possible existence of an electronic will creates uncertainty as to what document is actually the last will of a deceased person. Is there a more recent will stored on the deceased’s phone, tablet or laptop? Is there a document found somewhere in the deceased’s email inbox or in the cloud? Hopefully one of the witnesses to an electronic will would come forward and notify others of the existence of the document, but this may not always happen.   Moving forward, what will the expectation be on personal representatives or others to conduct searches of the deceased’s electronic devices, email inboxes, etc… for possible electronic wills?

We currently have a voluntary wills registry in B.C., which allows a will-maker to register a record of where to find the original copy of their will upon death. When dealing with an electronic will, there is no original physical copy of the document. In any event, the registry is not mandatory. This may create further uncertainty, especially when there is a physical will registered with the wills registry, but the possibility of a subsequent electronic will somewhere in the digital world that has not been registered.

If you choose to make an electronic will, you should at minimum make clear to the named executor that the document exists, and where it can be found (and ideally provide them with a copy).

What I’m Reading: Interesting Estate Litigation Articles for September 2021

The following is a roundup of noteworthy articles published this month on estate litigation and related issues:

  1. Ian Hull at Hull & Hull LLP (in Ontario) discusses the potential drawbacks of naming multiple co-executors in your will (who must work together): https://hullandhull.com/2021/09/should-you-have-co-executors-for-your-will/
  2. Stan Rule at Sabey Rule discusses a recent B.C. Court of Appeal decision which held that a creditor who has registered a judgment against real property held in the name of the debtor cannot enforce the judgment in respect of a beneficial interest of another person in the property, even if that interest is not registered: http://rulelaw.blogspot.com/2021/09/chichak-v-chichak.html
  3. Tyler Lin at de Vries Litigation LLP (Ontario) considers whether secret recordings are effective in litigation: https://devrieslitigation.com/can-secret-recordings-be-effective-evidence-in-litigation/
  4. Albert Oosterhoff at WEL Partners (Toronto) discusses the rights of beneficiaries to obtain information from trustees: https://welpartners.com/blog/2021/09/information-trustees-must-disclose-to-beneficiaries-the-joint-interest-exception/
  5. Paul Trudelle at Hull & Hull LLP (in Ontario) discusses an Alberta case in which it was ordered that no further steps could be taken without leave of the court in what amounted to frivolous estate litigation: https://hullandhull.com/2021/09/when-enough-is-enough-ending-estate-claims/

Happy reading!