The recent COVID-19 outbreak in Canada poses unique challenges for people who need to get their will and Power of Attorney documents completed, printed, and witnessed while also preventing exposure to the coronavirus.
Canadian law requires that in order to be legally-binding, will and Power of Attorney documents must be physical, printed documents that are signed in the presence of two (2) witnesses, and those witnesses must also sign the Will. Unfortunately, digital signatures are not legally-valid but we hope to be at the forefront of changing this as times like this highlight the limitations of the current law.
We’ve put together some tips so you can complete and make your new will valid in a way that keeps your loved ones and community as healthy as possible during this challenging time.
Good news for Ontario residents:
On April 7th, the Ontario government approved virtual witnessing of wills for the duration of the province’s COVID-19 state of emergency. The new order allows people in Ontario to get their will witnessed via live video call, with at least one of those witnesses required to be a paralegal or lawyer licensed by the Law Society of Ontario. Learn more here.
Ready to have your documents virtually witnessed but struggling to secure a paralegal or lawyer licensed in Ontario? We have worked out an exclusive deal with the experienced team at Notary Pro to help you virtually witness and finalize your Willful documents. Read more and book an appointment with Notary Pro here.
Important note for residents of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, and British Columbia:
Your Enduring Power of Attorney must be notarized if your Attorney is transacting real estate on your behalf. Your local notary public services may have reduced hours and require you to make an appointment to have your documents notarized.
We recommend seeking a notary public who is willing to come to you, or contact digital verification service Vaultie to assess whether it is a viable option in your province.
If You're Practicing Social Distancing
Thank you for doing your part to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in your community. You can still get your will completed and witnessed while practicing social distancing by taking a few extra precautions:
- If you don’t have a printer at home, ask 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. For a limited time, Willful will print and ship your will to you free of charge. Click here to find out more.
- Seek out witnesses who are in your household, or who you will be seeing during social distancing (close family members). A reminder that your witnesses can’t be anyone who benefits from your will - so your beneficiaries and Executors can’t sign. But family members who don’t fall into that category make great witnesses. Willful provides you with an instructions page outlining who cannot sign your will so it’s extremely clear.
- 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. We recommend taking an extra step by avoiding direct contact with your witnesses’ hands and face (unfortunately, no handshakes, kisses, or hugs).
- 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. For individual wills: The Testator (the person who created the will) and two witnesses. For Couples/Mirrored Wills: The Testators (the couple who created their wills) and two witnesses.
Lost access to your printer while working from home?
If you have purchased a Willful will and don’t have access to a printer, for a limited time Willful will print and ship your will and Power of Attorney documents to you free of charge. If you are under self-quarantine, please ensure that you maintain at least 6 feet of distance when signing to accept the shipment.
Click here to find out more about free print-and-ship.
If You Suspect Or Know You’ve Been Exposed To COVID-19
A 14-day self-quarantine is an important measure to take if you have been exposed to an individual - or individuals - who exhibit(s) COVID-19 symptoms, or who have tested positive for the coronavirus. What does this mean for your will?
Please remain under self-quarantine to ensure your well-being and that of your loved ones and community. At the end of your 14-day self-quarantine if you and your witnesses do not exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, and have not been exposed to people suspected of having the coronavirus, then you are welcome to have your will witnessed while practicing social distancing.
If You Have Tested Positive For COVID-19
We’re so sorry to hear of your diagnosis and wish you a safe recovery.
We do not advise assigning healthcare workers as your witnesses because a witness of your will and Power of Attorney Documents should be a trusted individual you will know in the long-term - that person may be called before the courts during the probate process to confirm they were there when you signed, or to answer questions. It is best to recover from the coronavirus first and then sign and witness your will only when you have been cleared to do so by a medical professional.
If you are concerned about becoming incapacitated without a representative to act on behalf of your healthcare wishes during, please contact a local estate lawyer virtually about your options regarding the Power of Attorney for Personal Care you created. If unsigned and unwitnessed, this document is unfortunately invalid but an estate lawyer may be able to advise you on how to navigate this difficult situation.
Another option is to write your will on a piece of paper - called a holographic will. This does not require any witnesses; just your signature. We typically don't recommend writing your own will from scratch as there's room for error or omission - when you are able to have contact with others, you can create a new will using a tool like Willful or by visiting a lawyer.
Lastly, this is a great time to reach out to family and friends and encourage them to get their own paperwork in order. As we’ve learned in recent weeks, it’s always good to have a plan in place for the unexpected.
Learn more about your province or territory’s response to COVID-19 and how to stay protected:
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island*
- Newfoundland and Labrador*
- Northwest Territories*
*At the time of publishing this article, Willful does not currently serve this province/territory.