Wills can now be witnessed electronically in B.C.

New rules extend to powers of attorney and representation agreements

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British Columbians can now have wills, powers of attorney and representation agreements witnessed remotely under new orders from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

“People will be able to lawfully complete, execute and sign three important agreements,” said lawyer, Ron Usher, general counsel and practice advisor for the Society of Notaries Public of B.C.

Usher said the change allows for completion of personal planning documents that ultimately avoids costly and lengthy legal proceedings that might otherwise occur without such documents being properly done under law.

The society said the orders allow notaries to more fully respond to the public interest in safely making legally effective personal planning documents governing their estates and financial affairs, health and personal care needs. 

“Future costly burdens on families and the court system will now be avoided,” the society said.

Two ministerial orders (Ministerial Order M162 and Ministerial Order M162) from Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth took effect May 19, 2020, and remain in effect until the provincial state of emergency ends.

The orders said the changes were needed so such witnessing could be done “in a manner that reduces the threat of COVID-19 to the health and safety of persons.”

The orders allow communication using audio-visual communication technology, including assistive technology for those who are hearing or visually impaired.

It allows for people to be “electronically present” rather than having to deal with such documents and agreements in person. Some may be together in person while others use technological means to participate.

The orders said at least one person involved must be a lawyer or notary public.

“A will may be made by signing complete and identical copies of the will in counterpart,” one order said.

What that means, Usher explained, is that a notary or lawyer can see a document being signed in ink via video link and witness it remotely.

“It’s a bit of a radical thing,” he said, “because the rule about signing of wills goes back longer than anyone can remember.”

And, he added, “if you have a lawful representation agreement in place, there’s going to be no question about who has consent.”

Usher said notaries and clients have been going to great lengths prior to the orders to get such documents completed.

That has included witnessing things through windows and handling documents with the danger they might carry COVID-19.

Now, he said, it’s good to see the government paying attention to the non-contentious side of legal issues.

“Non-contentious documents are what keep people out of court,” he said.

“It’s a good example of everybody rowing in the same direction.”

jhainsworth@glaciermedia.ca

@jhainswo