The effects of COVID-19 have been wide-reaching – the pandemic has even ushered in a new way of creating wills in British Columbia. In an attempt to limit in-person contact at the outset of the pandemic, the British Columbia government introduced measures to allow for the remote signing and witnessing of wills by people in different locations through video-conferencing. In December 2021, the government took this a step further and implemented permanent changes to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act to allow for fully electronic wills.
Previously, wills had to be on paper and signed by the will-maker and two witnesses while in the physical presence of each other. Under the new legislation, wills can now be fully digital (i.e. no paper copy is necessary) and can be signed with an electronic signature, rather than with ink.
This change will likely be welcome news to many, including the elderly, those with mobility challenges, those living in remote communities, people under quarantine, or British Columbians with underlying health conditions who may want to minimize in-person contact.
However, it is important to note that British Columbia is the first province to introduce such legislation and it may, therefore, be too early to tell how these changes will play out in reality. The very nature of electronic wills bring a host of potential issues that the legislation may not have contemplated. For example, what happens if the digital file gets hacked, corrupted, inadvertently overwritten, or the device on which it is being stored is lost? There is also the question of whether other jurisdictions outside of British Columbia will even recognize an electronic will.
Considering the potential unknowns, absent a pressing reason for an electronic will, it may be prudent, for the time being, to stick with the tried, tested, and true method: pen and paper.