A Guide to Modern Wills: The Digital Will, Electronic Wills, and Online Wills

The law pertaining to Wills has been in place for almost 200 years. Over that time, very little has changed in the requirements to create a legal Last Will and Testament. The law has always stated that a Will must be written on paper and signed in ink in the presence of two witnesses, who must also sign the document in ink in the presence of each other. But over the last 20 years we have seen the emergence of online Will services, Digital Wills, and Electronic Wills. The definitions of these modern Wills have been evolving, and cause a great deal of confusion. In this article we would like to explain the differences between these documents.

Modern Wills
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Summary

An Online Will

A document written by an online Will writing service, but then downloaded and printed to be signed in the presence of two witnesses. It’s a Will writing service offered online. There isn’t really such a thing as an Online Will, other than the Electronic Will described below.

A Digital Will

A document that describes the handling of your digital assets, including those of financial value and those of sentimental value. These can range from social media accounts to cryptocurrencies. This is described outside of your traditional Last Will and Testament, and usually appoints somebody to manage this activity (i.e. your “Digital Executor”).

An Electronic Will

A document that is signed electronically by yourself and by your two witnesses. The signing is usually completed remotely via video link, and the document can then be stored electronically in the cloud. At the time of writing, British Columbia is the only Province that legally accepts an electronically signed and stored Will.

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Electronically signing a Digital Will with LegalWills.ca

At LegalWills.ca we have always felt that technology could do far more for Will writing and estate planning than the law allowed. The legal requirements for writing a Will hadn’t fundamentally changed for nearly two centuries. A Will had to be written on a piece of paper, then signed in ink in the physical presence of two adult witnesses, and then stored in a filing cabinet somewhere.

This was, of course, problematic. Countless Wills were left undiscovered, or even accidentally lost in a house fire or natural disaster. The requirement to be in the physical presence of two witnesses became a significant barrier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Importantly, these “old fashioned” requirements did nothing more to protect the rights of the Will writer. Wills could just go missing or be fraudulently signed by unscrupulous family members. It was not uncommon to see elderly parents sign a document under suspicious circumstances, resulting in family members challenging each other through the court system.

2020 was a significant year for estate planning because, for the first time, the law that described the execution requirements was re-written for COVID-19. The witnesses were no longer required to be physically present, but they could witness the signing through a video link. However, the paper document would still have to be couriered around to each witness for a physical signature.

In British Columbia, 2021 is a major watershed moment in Will writing law because of Bill 21. This Bill, for the first time, allows not only remote witnessing, but also electronic signing and storage of Wills.

It’s worth noting that there is some inconsistency with terminology. The BC law refers to “Electronic Wills” and many people are using the term “Digital Wills” to refer to a Will that includes Digital Assets. At LegalWills.ca we feel that using the term Digital Wills to refer to digital assets is confusing, so in this article we will refer to a document that is electronically signed and electronically stored as both Digital Wills and Electronic Wills.

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What to Do After You Have Written Your Will

Completing your Will is an important step, but it is not the only thing that needs to be done to get your affairs in order. Working through the suggestions below will not only help you organize all of your assets, but will also ensure a smooth process for your surviving loved ones.

Store Your Will and Be Sure That Your Executor Knows Where it is Stored

Once you have signed your Will in the presence of two witnesses, who in turn sign the document, it is a legal Last Will and Testament. At this point, you simply need to store the document in a place that is known and accessible to your Executor.

Your Executor is the only person who needs access to the Will. You do not need to share the document with your beneficiaries or family members. Some people simply give the Will to their Executor (or alternate Executor) for safe keeping in a sealed envelope.

There is no requirement to store the Will with any particular registry, and there is no requirement to register the document with any court or government department (this is done after you have died).

Your Will is a document that can be updated throughout your lifetime. Any time you make a change to your Will, you should sign the new document in the presence of witnesses. Ideally, any older Will should be destroyed, although this is not a requirement. Your most recently signed and dated Will is your “Last” Will and Testament and the only one that is active (assuming that it meets the legal requirements for a Will).

Storing your Will
Make sure that your Executor knows where your Will is stored.
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More Will writing Myths

I recently happened upon a Facebook ad promoting an online Will writing service. There are a few different services in Canada, and because Facebook knows that I have an interest in Will writing, I seem to be targeted for every ad from all of our competitors. This particular ad has been running for many months, and garnered nearly 200 comments.

I feel a little sorry for this service provider though, because the comments are riddled with myths, misconceptions, or could we even go as far as to call it “fake news”. The comments section has a surprising level of misunderstanding. I thought it would be interesting to dissect some of these comments, and put the record straight.

The Holographic Will

“Half of it is handwritten and half is typed, which means courts will reject it as a holograph Will”.

The holographic Will causes so much confusion, but it’s really very simple. A Will must be signed in the presence of two witnesses to make it legal, but some provinces make an exception to this rule. Sometimes it is simply not possible to gather two witnesses (for example, if you are stuck under a rock), and you may need a Will in a hurry. So some provinces allow you to prepare a Will without witnesses if it is entirely written in your own handwriting. This is called a holographic Will.

Here’s the catch: not all provinces accept a non-witnessed holographic Will (notably British Columbia), so it makes sense to prepare a Will and sign it in the presence of two witnesses.

However, all provinces will accept a document that is signed in the presence of two witnesses whether it is all handwritten, all typed, or a mixture of the two.

So in answer to Jenn Hurst’s point, an online service is not helping you to prepare a holographic Will. If half of the document is typed, it is not a holographic Will, so it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses. A document that is signed in the presence of two witnesses will be accepted in all Canadian provinces, regardless of if it is typed, handwritten, or a mixture of the two.

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Writing your Will is the first step – how to help your Executor

Online Will writing services have changed the game for Will writing. The traditional barriers of cost and convenience no longer apply. There was a time when a simple Will would cost $600 and take two or three visits to a lawyer. These visits would have to be coordinated with a spouse and other family members. Then if the Will needed to be updated, the whole process would have to be endured again.

It is no surprise then that the vast majority of Canadian adults don’t have a Will.

With online Will writing services, the costs have been brought down dramatically, so a Will can now be written for as little as $39.95. And of course the time consuming appointments are a thing of the past – you can just put the kids to bed, put your feet up, pick up your iPad, and write your Will.

Writing your Will with LegalWills.ca

We now expect more people to be writing their Will, simply because the process is so much more convenient and affordable. Most people who use our service wonder why they left it so long

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Online Will service – 11 things that you can do at LegalWills.ca

LegalWills.ca features that are not supported by any other leading online Will service.

We often see reviews of online Will writing services. These reviews typically look as far as pricing, look and feel of the website, maybe support options. Unfortunately reviewers rarely take the Will service itself for a test drive. They don’t usually imagine different scenarios to determine how capable the Will service is in addressing different demands.

At LegalWills.ca we confidently regard our Will writing service as the most complete, and most flexible service of any online Will application.

Online Will service
The Will service at LegalWills.ca

In this article, we will take a quick look at just eleven things that you can do at LegalWills.ca, things that are not supported by other leading online Will writing platforms.

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The Ultimate Guide to Preparing a Will – 2021

Introduction to Preparing a Will

Everybody should have a Will. Not making a Will is unfair to those you leave behind. Even if your plans for estate distribution are simple and you do not have many assets, it is still much easier for the people that you leave behind to work with a Will than to resolve the estate of a person who has died intestate (without a Will). If you do not feel that you have significant assets now, remember that your Will only comes into effect when you die, not now, and you cannot possibly predict how large your estate will be when your Will is required. Preparing a Will is one of the most important tasks you can undertake if you have loved ones. Sadly, most of us put it off until it is too late.

By law, any competent adult can make their own legal Will; the law does not require you to have an attorney or a lawyer, to do this. A Will does not need to be a complicated document; it simply has to clearly state your wishes for the distribution of your estate.

Guide to Preparing a Will

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Have you “Made a Will”? Make it your New Year’s Resolution.

It is that time of year again. The time when we all make New Year’s Resolutions for things that we know we really ought to do, but never quite get around to. We all know the popular ones. Go to the gym, lose weight, spend more time with our family. However, there is one New Year’s Resolution that we should all make sure that we keep. Have you made a Will? We should prioritize “making a Will“. Before you head to the gym and pay to join again, make sure that you protect your family and loved ones by writing a Will.

Making a Will

So many people do not make a Will, but really there is no excuse not to. It is one of the most important things that you should do to make sure that your family and friends are provided for in the event of your death. Continue reading

When you die, what happens to your Facebook and social accounts?

What Happens to Your Facebook Account When You Die?

When we are making a Will, we know that we must think about our personal assets such as our house, money and possessions. However, have you ever stopped to think about what would happen to your social media accounts? Facebook has almost 1.8 billion users. You are most likely one of them. Have you thought about what happens to your Facebook account when you die? Even though many of us spend a great deal of time on Facebook, most people simply don’t think about what will happen to the account after they have died.

Facebook now gives you a number of options about what should happen to your account when you pass away. It is one of the most helpful of the social media networks in clarifying your choices. There are three choices you can make about what happens to your Facebook account when you die. You can simply delete the account, memorialize it or download the contents and then delete it. Just take some time to think about which option is the best for you. Once you have made your choice, Facebook has made it very easy for people to carry out their wishes. Continue reading

Using an Estate planning lawyer? Here are some questions to ask…

Wondering whether our service is right for you? considering using an estate planning lawyer?

We know that 62 percent of Canadians don’t have a Will in place. A further 12 percent have a Will, but it’s out of date.

Even with that harrowing stat, the legal community still try to warn people against preparing their own Will. Claiming that you can only obtain a quality Last Will and Testament from an estate planning lawyer. Any approach to writing your own Will is going to result in pain for your family and loved ones.

In truth, there was some merit in this argument about 20 years ago when the only do-it-yourself Will writing options were a blank piece of paper, or a blank form Will kit. Both approaches are a disaster waiting to happen, and many estates went through protracted legal battles to settle an ambiguous instruction. Or worse, a Will was simply thrown out because it wasn’t signed correctly.

Thankfully in the years since LegalWills.ca came online in 2001, the online interactive Will writing services have come a long way. Much like tax preparation software that faced a similar backlash from tax preparing accountants, the use of online interactive Will writing services has grown year by year.

Will writing office

Online Will writing services have also improved to a point that for 99 percent of people, the final Will document is indistinguishable from a Will created by an estate planning lawyer. We know this because we use the exact same software used by any estate planning lawyer in Canada. We’ve just give you direct access to it.

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Digital assets in your Last Will and Testament – you need a plan.

As we spend more time online, our social, sentimental, and financial assets have begun to migrate online as well. Collectively, we have come to call these items, your digital assets.

Unfortunately, people all too frequently neglect the digital component when they write a Will. You probably haven’t considered creating a plan for your Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter accounts. Maybe you have recently experienced the loss of a friend and seen first hand the mis-management of online accounts for people who are no longer alive, I know I have. Sadly, three of my ex-colleagues have died, and every year, LinkedIn still prompts me to congratulate them on their work anniversary.

But there is much more to digital assets than your social accounts. Some of these assets simply need to be managed, some need named beneficiaries, and some have real monetary value and should be included as part of your estate.

 

Your Digital Assets – what are they?

You can divide the three most common forms of digital assets into three categories: social, sentimental, and financial digital assets. You may have a plan for your social assets, but having a comprehensive plan for your sentimental and financial assets is probably more important. Continue reading

The Canadian Will Kit – and the evolution of Will services

Many of us remember the TV ads for the Canadian Will Kit. It later became the Complete Canadian estate planning kit. It’s been over a decade since those ads ran on TV and Radio, and to this day, we still receive calls from people looking for one.

Unfortunately, these kits became synonymous with “writing your own Will”. The kits were bad, the Wills that they created caused many problems, and so people still think that writing your own Will is a bad idea.

 

The common criticisms of “boilerplate” Wills like the Canadian Will Kit, and “one-size fits all” kits are still trotted out by lawyers advising people against writing their own Wills. But these criticisms are woefully out of date, and simply no longer apply to online Will services like the one at LegalWills.ca. Continue reading

Wills for Blended families and stepfamilies

Wills for Blended families

First a definition;

stepfamily or blended family is a family where at least one parent has children, from a previous relationship, that are not genetically related to the other parent. Either one or both parents may have children from a previous relationship. Children from a stepfamily may live with one biological parent, or they may live with each biological parent for a period of time.

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Six good reasons to prepare an online Will

Is it possible to get a will written without a lawyer? What is an online Will?

We saw this question recently posted on Quora and we were a little surprised by the misinformation provided in the answers. They included the tired old analogies to “you wouldn’t remove your own appendix, so you shouldn’t prepare your own Will” (the two tasks are nothing close to comparable), and also a rather surprising answer from a lawyer who claimed “In non-emergency situations, you must get it done through a lawyer.” which is absolute nonsense.

Online Will

 

I would like to provide some reasons why it would actually be advantageous to prepare a Will without a lawyer, but first some clarification on the term “online Will”

What is an “online Will” service

There is no such thing as an online Will. A Will has to be printed, signed and witnessed in order to be made legal. Online, scanned or digitized versions of a Will are not legal documents. Any service that offers to store your Will online or in the cloud are misrepresenting what they can do because based on current law in Canada, a copy of a Will stored in the cloud cannot be probated. Our partner website that allows you to write your own Will in the US recently published a blog post explaining this. So when we talk about an online Will service, we are really talking about an Will service that is online. Once you have stepped through the service, the document must be printed, signed and witnessed to be made into a legal Last Will and Testament. Continue reading