Amend Ontario laws to allow digital signing, virtual witnessing, & online storage of wills

Amend Ontario laws to allow digital signing, virtual witnessing, & online storage of wills

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COVID-19 caused Canadians to think about emergency planning, including creating or updating their wills and Power of Attorney documents. The current COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that some of the requirements for creating a will are antiquated. Completing these documents while social distancing or quarantining is difficult, if not impossible – Ontario law requires that these documents are printed, signed by the testator (will-maker) on paper, and witnessed by two people who also sign the physical copy. Necessitating people to meet with lawyers in-person or have multiple witnesses in the room at the same time is not always feasible.

According to an AngusReid survey in July 2020, 64% of Canadians don’t have an up-to-date will, and 24% would have completed their will earlier if they had been able to do it online. Though it is not legal to sign or store a will online in Ontario, 84% of Canadians already believe that digitally signing a will is legal, and 92% of Canadians believe it’s legal to store wills online.

During COVID-19, Ontario is temporarily allowing virtual witnessing; however, this provision is only in effect during the Emergency Order, and signing physical documents is still required. Modern technology supports secure digital signatures and secure online storage, and consumers are demanding that outdated offline processes are moved online. Modern legislation is needed to reflect current technological capabilities, to make estate planning more accessible, and to ensure the will-creation process can withstand future crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.

By amending the Succession Law Reform Act to allow for electronic signatures and online storage of wills, will-making will be more accessible for Ontarians, while reducing fraud. Digital signatures will reduce fraud by providing secure identity verification and an audit trail, and secure digital storage will prevent wills from being unlawfully destroyed.

The B.C. Government has passed legislation (Bill 21) that enables courts to accept wills that are signed electronically, witnessed remotely, and stored digitally. This is a step-forward for B.C. which will help to modernize the end-to-end process of creating a will. Similar change is needed in Ontario. Ontario has a chance to be an innovator by following B.C.’s lead and adopting similar legislation. Specifically, we advocate for amending the Succession Law Reform Act by implementing similar wording to B.C.’s Bill 21.

This will especially benefit seniors, rural residents, those who are quarantined or sick, those with mobility issues, low-income individuals, and persons with disabilities – and it will encourage more Ontarians to complete these important and necessary documents. Over half of Ontarians (51%) said they would complete their will if they could do it online – the time to modernize antiquated laws is now.