Electronic Signatures Still not an Option for Wills in Ontario
Our readers will already know about the recent approval of legislation providing for will validation in Ontario under Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. The act received Royal Assent in April 2021. The changes under Schedule 9, which addresses amendments of the Succession Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c S.26 (the “SLRA”), come into effect on January 1, 2022 (other than the update to virtual will witnessing in counterpart, which has already been made permanent under the revised Section 4 of the SLRA).
As of January 1, 2022, a new Section 21.1 of the SLRA will read as follows:
(1) If the Superior Court of Justice is satisfied that a document or writing that was not properly executed or made under this Act sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased or an intention of a deceased to revoke, alter or revive a will of the deceased, the Court may, on application, order that the document or writing is as valid and fully effective as the will of the deceased, or as the revocation, alteration or revival of the will of the deceased, as if it had been properly executed or made.
No electronic wills
(2) Subsection (1) is subject to section 31 of the Electronic Commerce Act, 2000.
(3)Subsection (1) applies if the deceased died on or after the day section 5 of Schedule 9 to the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 came into force.
We have seen Section 21.1 referred to as both a will-validation provision and as a “substantial compliance” provision. In fact, Section 21.1 does not specify that substantial compliance with the formal requirements for a valid will under the SLRA is required and it may, accordingly be more accurately referred to as a will-validation provision. Either way, this is a significant change to the law of validity of wills in Ontario and our province, as of January 1, 2022, will no longer be a strict compliance jurisdiction where some documents clearly intended to function as a valid will are rejected and deemed ineffective for technical reasons.
Notably, the legislation carves out the use of electronic signatures. Some estate practitioners had been hopeful that electronic signatures would be accepted under the proposed estate legislative reform, given the recent increased acceptance of electronic signatures in the swearing/commissioning of affidavits and other legal documents and options available to verify their authenticity. Section 31 of the Electronic Commerce Act, 2000, SO 2000, c 17, excludes the application of that act to wills, codicils, testamentary trusts, and powers of attorney.
Accordingly, it appears that a will signed by the testator or witnesses using electronic means cannot be validated by the Court, even after the new Section 21.1 is introduced to the SLRA. For now (including after January 1 of next year), all wills still require actual, “wet” signatures in order to be valid. Furthermore, even if a will may be validated by the Court under Section 21.1, the uncertainty, delay, and expense relating to applying for court-ordered validation of a will may still be best avoided by seeking an experienced estate planning lawyer’s assistance in the preparation of a Last Will and Testament.
Thank you for reading.