What are the Risks of Virtually Witnessing a Will or Power of Attorney?

May 4, 2020 Rebecca Rauws Estate Planning, Power of Attorney, Wills Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Natalia Angelini recently blogged about some helpful tips from LawPRO on how to minimize the risk when virtually witnessing Wills and powers of attorney. On April 24, LawPRO posted another helpful article about the risks of “renting out” your signature as a virtual witness.

The emergency legislation requires that one of the witnesses to a Will that is executed by means of audio-visual communication technology (which now temporarily meets the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 requirement that the testator and witnesses be “in the presence of” each other), be a Law Society licensee. This means that some of us may be asked to be witnesses to a Will or power of attorney that we did not prepare ourselves. However, as LawPRO points out, simply being a witness does not necessarily mean that we will not be held responsible if there are problems with the Will or power of attorney.

Some of the issues that may arise could include the following:

  • Problems with the Will or power of attorney not being executed properly, in accordance with the requirements for due execution and the specific requirements of virtual execution pursuant to the temporary legislation.
  • The Will or power of attorney not reflecting the testator or grantor’s wishes. This may arise if a testator or grantor prepares their own Will or power of attorney from an online service or kit, resulting in a document that is likely not tailored to the testator or grantor’s particular situation, financial circumstances, and wishes.
  • Technical errors in the document, such as the omission of a residue clause, which can drastically impact the distribution of the testator’s assets.

LawPRO has provided some tips for how to protect yourself if you are asked to be a witness to a Will or power of attorney that you did not prepare (although the tips seem equally applicable if you did prepare the document in question):

  • Take detailed notes.
  • Send a reporting letter following the execution of the document and confirm the scope of your retainer.
  • Record the signing (with the client’s permission).

You may also consider having the testator or grantor sign a limited retainer agreement, before you witness the Will or power of attorney, which explicitly sets out that you have been engaged only for the purpose of witnessing the document, and not to review it or provide any legal advice.

Thanks for reading, and stay safe!

Rebecca Rauws

 

These other blog posts may also be of interest:

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