Recent Changes to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act for British Columbia

On March 31, 2014, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act became law in British Columbia. Although laws existed previously concerning wills and estates, this legislation clarified many procedures.

In August 2020, the BC Legislature amended the Act. This was done partially because of the circumstances caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdowns to allow for electronic wills and remote witnessing.

If you recently lost a loved one and have the solemn duty of acting as their executor, you could benefit from retaining an experienced estate lawyer in Vancouver. They can ensure you adhere to the law, guide you through a complicated process and avoid personal liability.

The Initial Wills, Estates and Succession Act

The original Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) defined partnerships, changed the age limit for creating wills and altered the way courts view a deceased’s wishes.

WESA defines a spouse as a partner whom you have lived with for at least two years and includes same-sex couples. WESA treats married and unmarried couples equally. It also addresses other relationships, including adoption, and introduces regulations for inheritance.

One of WESA’s most important aspects is allowing courts to interpret intent. While courts use wills as a basis for decisions, WESA allows emails, notes, and conversations after a will’s drafting to be considered.

Previously, a new marriage voided a pre-existing will. WESA eliminated this. If you remarry, make it a priority to write a new will that includes your spouse as soon as possible.

WESA allows people 16 and older to create a will. Although younger people may not be thinking that far ahead, a will is an important document for people of all ages to have. Parents should encourage children to create a basic will when they turn 16.


Recent Changes

In 2020, the need for changes to WESA became clear. With the onset of the pandemic, it became harder for people to gather witnesses for will signings. In May 2020, the BC Government allowed remote witnessing of wills by Ministerial Order.

Recent changes allow electronic signatures of a will, meaning you no longer need to have a physical document.

Consult with a wills lawyer if you’re unsure how to set up remote witnessing or how to create an electronic copy of your will. They can help guide you through the process, ensuring everything is in order.


Possible Consequences

Wills usually name the executor as the person who ensures a deceased’s estate is distributed according to their wishes. When naming an executor, it’s important you consult a lawyer to understand the procedure. Generally, the estate will cover legal fees.

Being an executor can be a time-consuming and thankless task. It can also result in legal problems. By agreeing to act as an executor, you take on legal responsibility. If you act incorrectly, you can be held personally liable.

Common mistakes include distributing parts of estate before paying taxes, giving assets to beneficiaries when there are unresolved claims, or failing to contact potential creditors or beneficiaries. You must do your due diligence before distributing assets.

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of executing your loved one’s will, even with legal help, consider renunciation. However, you can only easily renounce your status as executor before starting the process, so consider carefully whether you are able and willing to take on this responsibility.


Benefits of Working with a Lawyer

Before creating your will, consult with a lawyer. They can help ensure the language in your will is clear and that your wishes will be followed. If you are unsure how to structure your will, name an executor, or what the rules are for inheritance in BC, the team at Monterio & Company is happy to help you.

If you are an executor, you have an enormous amount of legal responsibility. It’s often overwhelming to deal with your grief and the legalities of death. Executing a will doesn’t just involve distributing assets. You need to order the death certificate, notify Canada Post for a mail redirect, notify banks, insurance companies, credit cards, utility providers, and cancel identification cards (like a passport or driver’s license).

A lawyer can ensure you don’t miss anything, which could cause problems while (or after) distributing assets. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the information you need to cancel certain contracts or learn which credit cards and insurance companies your loved one had. An experienced wills and estate lawyer will know where to look for the information and help you find items you may have missed.

You may need to go through probate court to start the process. While not all estates require probate, many do, and the process is often complicated. At Monterio & Company, we have extensive experience working as probate lawyers in Vancouver and across BC. We can help you determine whether probate is necessary, and if so, help you apply to the appropriate court.

If your loved one had several debts, you may also want to consult a lawyer since you may need to settle those before distributing assets to beneficiaries. Working with a lawyer can help you validate creditors’ claims.

Distributing assets is challenging, particularly if a family member feels slighted. Having a lawyer may help diffuse the situation. If the will is unclear, or there are emails or notes that appear to alter it, a lawyer can help determine the best course of action.

A lawyer can also protect you from making mistakes, which could expose you to legal problems.


Protect Yourself and Contact Wills and Estates Lawyers in Vancouver

At Monterio & Company, we believe in loyalty, reputability, and integrity. With our years of experience handling wills and estates, we can help you execute your loved one’s will efficiently and in full compliance with the law.

Whether you want to update your will, ensure your loved one’s wishes are followed by a court or need help executing a will, we are here to help. Call us on (604) 637-8737 to arrange consultation and learn more about how we can help. While our offices are in Vancouver, we assist people from across the entirety of British Columbia.

Rob Monterio

Rob has been practising law in British Columbia since 2005. With years of experience in estate administration, commercial and corporate law, as well as residential real estate transactions, Rob offers his clients an unparalleled degree of professional expertise and timely advice.