The unexpected nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Canadians to think about their end-of-life plans.
However, the changes that have come with the outbreak have also created challenges for many Canadians looking to complete, print, and sign their will and power of attorney documents. In this article, we’ll answer some common questions about completing a will in the midst of COVID-19.
How can I make a will during COVID-19?
In Canada, there are many ways for you to make a legal will. If you have a simple estate, there are even options to create your will from the comfort of your home.
Online estate planning platforms, like Willful, make it easy to ensure your documents By guiding you through a series of questions, Willful platform assesses your life situation and creates customized documents tailored to you.
If you have a complex estate and require legal advice, some lawyers may also offer accommodations that respect any physical distancing requirements.
What makes my will legal?
Regardless how you’ve made your will, it's crucial to understand that what makes a will legally-valid has nothing to do with whether it was created using a lawyer
In Canada, for your last will and testament and power of attorney documents to be legally-binding, they must be physical, printed documents signed in the presence of two witnesses.
Do I have to print my will?
While it may seem convenient to store a copy of your will digitally, it’s not legal to store your will online or on your computer.
When you pass away, your executor will need the physical, original, printed copy of your will that has the wet signatures (aka not a photocopy or printed version). This is the only legal version of the document.
For that reason, you must print your documents to be signed and let your executor know where you’ve stored the original document.
If you do not have access to a printer at home during COVID, consider asking a family member or your executor to print your will for you and leave it at your door. Only do this if you’re comfortable sharing the file with them.
How can I have my will witnessed during COVID-19?
In order for your will to be legal in Canada, you’ll need your two (2) witnesses to watch you sign your document, in addition to having them sign it as well. This step is where most individuals experience challenges during COVID-19.
Most people immediately will consider the idea of digital signatures. However, digital signatures on wills are currently NOT valid. Meaning, you and your witnesses will have to grab a pen and sign the printed version of the document.
The good news is, you can still get your will completed and witnessed while practicing physical distancing by taking a few extra precautions:
The good news is, there are still ways to get your will completed and witnessed while practicing physical distancing. Here are some tips:
- Seek out witnesses for your will who are in your household, or who may be in your bubble (close family members). A reminder that your witnesses can’t be anyone who benefits from your will - so your beneficiaries and Executors (or their spouses) can’t sign. Family or household members who don’t fall into that category make great witnesses.
- Avoid crowded spaces and touching surfaces on public transportation, if you can, when traveling to meet with your witnesses.
- You and your witnesses should wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap before and after signing and witnessing the will.
- Sanitize the surface on which your will is to be signed and witnessed with an antibacterial wipe or spray.
- The Government of Canada recommends maintaining a two-meter (6 foot) distance from your witnesses, wearing masks, and avoiding direct contact (unfortunately, no handshakes, kisses, or hugs this time around).
- If you want to ensure there is no germ transmission, you can wear gloves while signing.
- BYOP: Bring Your Own Pen - Each person coming in contact with the will should have their own pen that is sanitized before and after the signing and witnessing of the Will.
- Minimize the number of people in the room.
Due to emergency orders, there are some provinces that are allowing for virtual witnessing as well. These legislations are constantly changing, so make sure to verify the requirements for your province when signing your will.
If the above options do not work for you, another option is to write your will on a piece of paper. This is called a holographic will and does not require any witnesses; just your signature. We typically don't recommend writing your own will from scratch as it often leaves room for error or omission.
That being said, any will is better than having no will at all. Once you are able to have contact with others again, it’s typically a good idea to create a new and updated will using a tool like Willful or by visiting a lawyer.