last will and testament waiting to be filled and signed

Some provinces now permit virtual witnessing of certain legal documents in light of the social distancing requirements imposed by governments amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

Saskatchewan enacted three sets of emergency legislation on March 26 that allow lawyers to remotely witness certain legal documents, including powers of attorney and land titles. Although these provisions do not include remote witnessing for wills, testators can prepare holograph wills without witnesses, according to an email from Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

British Columbia has proposed legislation that will enable courts to accept wills that are signed electronically and witnessed remotely. This initiative was underway before the pandemic, “but Covid-19 has made the reasons for these changes obvious to all British Columbians,” David Eby, the province’s attorney general, said in a statement.

Ontario is allowing wills to be witnessed remotely. According to a tweet sent April 7 by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, “Ontario is allowing wills and powers of attorney to be witnessed virtually so people can safely put their affairs in order during Covid-19.”

At least one other province is considering adopting similar measures.

“PEI is looking at Ontario’s recent move to allow virtual witnessing of wills and powers of attorney, and considering possible options that might be implemented under PEI legislation,” a spokesperson from the government of Prince Edward Island wrote in an email.

An email from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Justice and Public Safety said that “potential solutions for virtual witnessing options are being canvassed,” but the province currently requires people signing and witnessing wills and powers of attorney “to be in the physical presence of the deponent.” The province is encouraging physical distancing and frequent hand-washing.

A spokesperson from Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice wrote in an email: “We are continuing to assess and monitor access to services during these unprecedented times, including how virtual technology may be used in these instances.”

As of April 1, Quebec notaries are permitted to sign notarized documents remotely.

Investment Executive has reached out to the other provinces for comment and will update this story as more information is available.

If your clients must sign a will or other legal document in person, online will provider Willful has posted a list of tips to do so safely. Willful recommends sanitizing surfaces, pens and hands before and after signing; minimizing the number of people in a room; and keeping a minimum six-foot distance between signers.

Here are a few estate-planning and Covid-19 articles that may be useful:

Digital assets and estate planning

Relief for clients managing estates

Government help during Covid-19: a summary

Breaking down federal support for business owners