Execution of Wills during COVID-19
Like many of you, we are struggling to figure out ways to get our clients’ Wills executed during this period of social distancing.
Ontario has very strict rules on how a Will has to be executed in order for it to be valid. Unlike many other Provinces, Ontario does not have “substantial compliance” legislation that allows a Court to validate a Will that has not been duly executed.
These rules cannot be changed except by legislative action. The Succession Law Reform Act would have to be amended. The Law Society of Ontario is not able to give permission to override these requirements.
The key requirements are that:
- The Will-maker must sign or acknowledge his/her signature in the presence of two witness; and
- Both witnesses must sign in the presence of the Will-maker and each other.
The “presence of” requirement is generally regarded as having to be in the same room and be able to see one another signing the Will.
We have almost always resisted sending the Will out to be executed by the client without our presence for fear that it would not be executed properly. However, under the current circumstances, we are adopting a process for our clients who need to have their Wills signed.
Protocol for Remote Execution
Firstly, we explain to the client the strict rules for signing the Will and that the Will won’t be valid unless these rules are followed exactly.
We also remind them of who cannot be a witness:
- A Beneficiary (even a contingent beneficiary);
- The married spouse of a Beneficiary; or
- A person under age 18.
A person who is named as an executor, but not a beneficiary, can be a proper witness.
If the client wants to proceed on their own, we limit our retainer so that we are not responsible to see to the due execution of the Will. Here is a link to our limited retainer.
We’ve created this Client Will Signing Checklist document that we send to the client and ask them to complete during the Will signing and send back to us. Here is a link to the document.
Some firms are asking their clients to video the Will execution process in such a way that all three parties, the Will-maker and the two witnesses are visible. The client can send a copy of the video for the lawyer’s files. Of course, this is not required, but may put you more at ease when you see that they did it correctly.
The Affidavit of Execution can be prepared and sworn after the signing.
Once we are able to interact in person, we are recommending that our clients come in to re-sign their Wills at our office, just to be on the safe side.
Thank you for reading.