Tag: Will Validation
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.
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Recent discussion of proposed amendments to the Succession Law Reform Act under Bill 245 has raised questions of whether corresponding changes will be made to the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992. In particular, some estate lawyers are wondering whether a new validation section may be added to the Substitute Decisions Act to address the issue of court validation of powers of attorney (like the new section 21.1 of the Succession Law Reform Act has been proposed to allow courts to validate improperly-executed wills) and/or whether remote execution options may soon be made permanent for powers of attorney as well as wills.
The Substitute Decisions Act already contains curative provisions that allow the court to validate incapacity planning documents in circumstances where the documents are not executed in strict compliance with formal requirements.
Subsection 10(4) of the Substitute Decisions Act reads as follows with respect to the validation of Continuing Powers of Attorney for Property:
(4) A continuing power of attorney that does not comply with subsections (1) and (2) is not effective, but the court may, on any person’s application, declare the continuing power of attorney to be effective if the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of the grantor or his or her dependants to do so.
Subsection 48(4) of the Substitute Decisions Act reads as follows with respect to the validation of Powers of Attorney for Personal Care:
(4) A power of attorney for personal care that does not comply with subsections (1) and (2) is not effective, but the court may, on any person’s application, declare the power of attorney for personal care to be effective if the court is satisfied that it is in the grantor’s interests to do so.
Remote Execution of Documents in Counterpart
While the focus of discussions among estate lawyers regarding Bill 245 may be the proposed updates to the Succession Law Reform Act and, in terms of formal will execution, the amendment of section 4 as it relates to the requirements for the witnessing of wills, Bill 245 also includes proposed changes to the Substitute Decisions Act under Schedule 8.
A new section 3.1 of the Substitute Decisions Act is being proposed to add specific references to the use of audio-visual communication technology and counterpart signing options in the execution and witnessing of Continuing Powers of Attorney for Property and Powers of Attorney for Personal Care. Accordingly, if Bill 245 is passed, the remote and counterpart execution options made available during the pandemic will be made permanent for wills and powers of attorney alike.
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As many of our readers know, Ontario may be well on its way to becoming a jurisdiction in which wills may be validated notwithstanding that they are not strictly compliant with the formal requirements set out under the Succession Law Reform Act. However a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice reminds us that Ontario, for now at least, remains a strict compliance jurisdiction where all formalities must be followed in the execution and witnessing of wills and codicils.
During the pandemic, many lawyers have taken advantage of the ability to assist clients in the remote execution and witnessing of their wills, as well as the execution and witnessing of wills in counterpart. In order to validly do so, the will must be witnessed using audio-visual communication technologies. In Re Swidde Estate, 2021 ONSC 1434, however, the drafting solicitor and other witness were neither in the physical presence of the testator nor in her presence by way of audio-visual communication technology, at the time that a codicil was signed. Instead, the witnesses were in communication with the testator over the phone (without video) at the time that she signed the codicil. The codicil was later couriered to the witnesses who then each signed the same document. The Court found that this did not meet the requirements set out under the Emergency Order in Council permitting remote execution and witnessing of wills, and the codicil could not be admitted to probate. This case may serve as a reminder to drafting solicitors to ensure that all requirements are strictly adhered to. In that regard, readers may find it helpful to use a checklist, such as that available through our website (linked here), when assisting clients in the remote execution of wills or other estate planning documents.
Bill 245 is currently in its third reading. Section 5 of Schedule 9 to the Bill provides for the Court validation of wills where a document sets out testamentary intentions but has not been properly executed or made. Such a provision would enable a judge in circumstances such as those in Re Swiddle Estate to validate a will or codicil that was not properly executed. This provision will come into effect no earlier than January 1, 2022 and will apply only to wills left by persons who have died following that date, subject to further changes before the legislation may be finalized and may ultimately take effect. Accordingly, especially while Ontario remains a strict compliance jurisdiction, it is important to exercise caution in ensuring that all wills we prepare are properly executed and witnessed.
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