On December 1st, 2021, new laws came into effect in British Columbia that allowed BC residents to create an “electronic Will” – a document signed and stored entirely online. After the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, most Canadian Provinces allowed remote witnessing of Wills – meaning that your witnesses could watch you sign the document over a video link. But this law still required the physical document to be mailed to each participant, to be signed in turn. The amendment to the BC Wills, Estates and Succession Act, through legislation called Bill 21, allowed, for the first time, a Will to be signed electronically and stored digitally.
LegalWills.ca has been working with a Canadian company, Syngrafii, for a number of months to pull together a truly unique solution to take advantage of these law changes. On December 1st, at 12:01am, Royce Burningham became the first Canadian in history to electronically sign his Will.
How do we know that this was the first electronically signed Will?
There have certainly been other claims to this title, but fortunately, the LegalWills.ca solution comes with an automatic activity trace called a MasterFile™. This is automatically uploaded into the account holder’s Vault within LegalWills.ca. Royce was kind enough to share his MasterFile™ with us.
The complete MasterFile™ is 23 pages long and provides a detail of every action taken on the video call.
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.