COVID-19: Estate Planning and Virtual Signings

Posted April 7, 2020

The Ontario Government Announces Virtual Signings of Wills and Powers of Attorney

Having a comprehensive estate plan in place is important even at the best of times, but the uncertainty that we currently face makes future planning even more crucial for peace of mind and the long-term security of your family members. In the light of the current pandemic, the Attorney General of Ontario announced today that the government has passed an emergency order allowing lawyers to witness the signings of Wills and Powers of Attorney though online video platforms. The order will be in place for the duration of the current state of emergency.

Previously, Wills and Powers of Attorney had to be witnessed and signed by the maker in very specific circumstances that included the physical “presence” of two adult witnesses, who should not be beneficiaries (the people you are leaving your assets to) or attorneys (the people you are authorizing to act on your behalf), nor the spouse of a beneficiary or attorney.

With the emergency order, the signing of the documents may be captured by “audio-visual communication technology” and viewed in real time, which will meet the requirements of being signed “in the presence” of the witnesses. At least one of the two witnesses must be a lawyer or paralegal licensed by the Law Society of Ontario.

PooranLaw welcomes the new approach at a time of social distancing and is ready to complete signings for our clients remotely through video conferences. We will also continue to provide support at every step of the estate planning process virtually through video conferences, by phone or over e-mail.

What to consider in your estate plan

Whether you are making your estate plan for the first time or updating your current documents, some important questions to consider include:

    • who will be your executor and take care of practical matters when you die, such as dealing with your bank or doing your last tax return;
    • who will receive personal items, especially those with sentimental value;
    • whether you want to leave legacies (e.g. a specific amount of money) to anyone;
    • whether you want to leave anything to a charity that is important to you;
    • who should receive the residue of your estate;
    • what happens to your RRSPs, RRIFs, and RDSP, if any, when you die;
    • who will administer trusts for minors or family members with a disability; and
    • who will take care of your children if they are under 18 when you die.

You can also include provisions in your Will to:

At the same time, you may want to update your life insurance beneficiary designations, especially where trusts are included in your plan.

Consider Powers of Attorney

For most people, the use of Powers of Attorney (“POAs”) is also advisable. A POA is a separate document from your Will, and it lets you choose who would make decisions for you if at some point in the future you can’t decide for yourself. One type of POA addresses financial matters, and another addresses personal care (including health care, nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene and safety).  These documents ensure that a person of your choosing is legally authorized to act on your behalf should you be considered incapable of making your own decisions.

You can choose different people (your “attorneys”) to make various types of decisions. For instance, you may trust one person most for financial decisions, while somebody else best understands your wishes for medical treatment in different situations. You can also choose multiple people to act together, or include alternates in case your first choice of attorney is unavailable.

Note: This article provides general information only and does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice or opinion. PooranLaw Professional Corporation holds the copyright to this article and the article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of PooranLaw Professional Corporation.