Changes to Ontario’s Estate Laws
Like many in the estates world, we have been closely following the evolvement of Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. Initially introduced in February of 2021, Bill 245 significantly alters Ontario’s estate laws. Bill 245 was proposed by the government in an effort to modernize an outdated system – a proposal that was welcomed by those in the estates community. The Estates Bar welcomes these developments and commends the Attorney General’s office for taking these significant steps in updating our legislation to better reflect the realities of life in the 2020s.
On April 19, 2021, Bill 245 received royal assent. The changes to Ontario’s estate laws are enumerated in Schedule 9 of Bill 245 and include the following:
- The Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) is amended to provide for the remote witnessing of wills through the means of audio-visual communication technology for wills made on and after April 7, 2020. The execution of a will in counterparts will now be permitted.
- Section 16 of the SLRA, which provides for the revocation of a will upon marriage, except in specific circumstances, is repealed.
- Subsection 17(2) of the SLRA is amended to include separated spouses. As such, any gift bequeathed to a spouse will be revoked upon separation.
- Section 21.1 is added to the SLRA and provides the Superior Court of Justice with the authority to, on application, make an order validating a document or writing that was not properly executed or made under the Act, if the Court is satisfied that the document or writing sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased or an intention of a deceased to revoke, alter, or revive a will of the deceased.
- Section 43.1 is added to the SLRA to exclude separated spouses from inheriting on an intestacy.
Bill 245 does not, however, affect the rights of common-law spouses.
The repeal of the provision under the SLRA with respect to the automatic revocation of any pre-existing wills by marriage is an important first step in protecting vulnerable older Ontarians from predatory marriage scenarios. Similarly, the updated rights of separated spouses will, in most cases, result in a more appropriate treatment of separated spouses who do not take the step of obtaining a formal divorce.
The new will validation provision to be added to the SLRA will provide the courts with a mechanism to allow the intentions of individuals who may not be aware of the formal requirements for a valid will to be honoured. In the past, we have seen technicalities prevent what was clearly intended to be a will from functioning as one from a legal perspective.
These changes also have the potential to improve access to justice. In particular, the permanence of virtual witnessing provisions for both wills and powers of attorney has the potential to increase access to justice while preserving necessary safeguards in the will execution process. The emergency measures introduced during the pandemic will allow Ontarians improved access to legal assistance in their estate planning, regardless of where in the province they may be located.
The amendments relating to the remote witnessing of wills and counterpart execution are currently in effect. The remaining legislative amendments will not come into force until a day proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor, which will not be earlier than January 1, 2022.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph