COVID-19: Estate planning during COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year, many people have been deeply concerned about  long-term planning for  their loved ones. For people with disabilities and their families, these issues can be especially pressing.

The pandemic has brought about important changes to the procedures involved with  making your estate plan.

In general, until March of this year, the signing of Wills and Powers of Attorney had to be witnessed in person by two people who would watch the testator sign the document, then sign it themselves.

This would typically take place in a lawyer’s office, although signing at home or in a hospital room in front of two friends or neighbours could also be legal as long as specific procedures were followed.

However, the pandemic introduced new challenges. For obvious reasons, face-to-face meetings with a lawyer stopped being feasible. In addition, many people are reluctant or unable to invite friends or neighbours over to act as witnesses, even if social distancing protocols are observed.

On April 7, 2020, the Ontario government responded by passing an emergency Order which allows for greater flexibility. Wills and Powers of Attorney can now be witnessed by two people, one of whom must be a legal professional, via a video link, such as on a Zoom call.

In other words, the testator and two witnesses must all be able to see one another on their screens at the same time. The testator signs one copy of the document, and then the witnesses each sign a separate copy. All the copies together constitute the valid document.

This means that right now a Will and/or Powers of Attorney can typically be completed with no direct in-person contact at all. In addition to promoting  public safety, this can be a boon for people with mobility challenges or busy schedules.

It is important to note that the emergency Order is only valid for a limited period of time. It has now been extended several times in response to evolving conditions, but there is no guarantee that video signings will continue to be possible indefinitely.

If you do not have an up-to-date Will and Powers of Attorney, or if you have concerns about the possible effect of the pandemic on your family, we recommend contacting an estate planning professional to discuss your wishes as soon as possible.

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.