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A Guide to Estate Planning in BC

In this article:

    In this article, we’ll explore the key aspects of estate planning in British Columbia and the steps to create a comprehensive plan that’ll give you and your loved one's security and peace of mind. Additionally, we’ll discuss unique nuances to estate planning in B.C., including the ability to sign, witness, and store estate planning documents electronically. 

    Key takeaways

    • Creating an estate plan involves having a comprehensive strategy for your end-of-life plans that goes beyond just a last will and testament in B.C.
    • Estate planning allows individuals to have control over how their assets are distributed, make plans for taking care of their loved ones, and can help to reduce any financial burden on others after they pass. 
    • Key documents for estate planning in B.C. can include a will, trusts, an enduring power of attorney, and a representation agreement. 
    • B.C. is unique among other Canadian provinces as the province passed Bill 21 in December 2021, allowing residents to sign, witness, and store their wills electronically. 

    What is an estate plan in British Columbia?

    In B.C., making an estate plan goes beyond just creating a last will and testament. A comprehensive estate plan is a set of legal documents and instructions that outline your wishes for after you pass. 

    There can be some complex terminology associated with estate planning, so we’ve put together a glossary of common estate planning terms here

    Estate planning checklist 

    If you’re new to estate planning, there can be a lot of documents to keep track of. We’ve created a checklist to help you keep track of your estate planning documents and make a complete end-of-life plan.   

    Download the checklist → 

    What is different about estate planning in B.C.?

    There are nuances to estate planning across all Canadian provinces and territories, however these are some of the most important differences in B.C:

    • You can have your will virtually witnessed
    • You can sign your will electronically
    • You can store your will online 
    • You can digitally update or revoke a will

    These aspects of creating a will are unique to B.C. and came into effect in December 2021 through Bill 21.  

    Virtually witnessing and signing wills in B.C.

    As a result of COVID-19, the B.C. government passed new legislation, called Bill 21, that allows residents to safely sign and have their wills witnessed electronically. B.C. is the only province in Canada that allows for this. 

    If you live in a rural area or are unable to leave your home, this makes creating a will much more accessible. It’s also convenient–you can complete your will without visiting a lawyer’s office or meeting witnesses in person!

    Read more about electronically signing and witnessing wills in B.C. here

    Storing wills online in B.C.

    Bill 21 also allows B.C. residents to store their wills online, although you can still create and sign a paper version if you prefer. 

    Once you have created your online will and had it electronically signed and witnessed, you should download it and store it in a safe place, like your computer, hard drive, or a digital vault. 

    In B.C., you should store the will in the same way that it was created and witnessed. If it was created, witnessed, and signed digitally, then it should be stored electronically. If it was created, witnessed, and signed on paper, then it should be stored as a hard copy on paper. 

    Digitally updating or revoking wills in B.C.

    Bill 21 also allows residents to update their wills digitally and revoke previous versions. Similar to paper wills, the updated will would need to be witnessed, signed, and stored electronically to be a valid will. 

    Why is estate planning important in B.C.?

    Estate planning in B.C. is important for several reasons: 

    1. It allows you to have control over decisions regarding your assets, healthcare, and financial affairs. 
    2. It makes sure that your family members and other loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone.
    3. You can make plans in advance, like doing tax planning, that will reduce the financial burden on your loved ones. 

    What documents are needed for estate planning in B.C.?

    Creating a will is a great first step in estate planning, but there are other documents that make up a comprehensive estate plan. 

    A last will and testament 

    Your last will and testament is a legal document that outlines your wishes in the event of your death. 

    It’s one of the most important documents you can have, but many residents of British Columbia don’t have one! A study commissioned by Willful showed that 58% of British Columbians and 90% of their millennial residents don’t have a will. 

    Check making a will off your list → 

    A trust

    Many people create trusts during their lifetimes to help manage and distribute their estate assets. In B.C., living and testamentary trusts are two types of trusts commonly included in estate plans. 

    Living trusts in B.C.

    There are some key differences between living trusts and wills, but the main difference is that living trusts can come into effect while you’re alive, whereas wills only come into effect after you pass. 

    Living trusts let you transfer assets to a trustee who manages them based on your instructions. The trustee can be a trust company or individual(s). 

    These trusts do not go through the probate process, so they can be a quicker way to get assets to a trustee.

    Testamentary trusts in B.C.

    A testamentary trust can be included in a will, and allows parents or guardians to leave instructions for how money should be distributed to their children or dependents after they pass. 

    The creator of the trust can indicate how much money they want their children to receive, in how many installments, and at what age it should be released to them. 

    Power of attorney documents 

    A power of attorney gives someone the authority to act on another person’s behalf in financial and/or personal care matters if they become incapable of making decisions for themselves. In B.C., there are two types of power of attorney documents: enduring power of attorneys and representation agreements.

    Click here to read all about power of attorney in B.C.

    Enduring power of attorneys in B.C.

    In BC, an enduring power of attorney gives someone the ability to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make them for yourself, due to medical reasons. This can include paying bills, maintaining property, or managing investments. It does not, however, allow them to create a will on your behalf. 

    Representation agreements in B.C.

    A representation agreement, similar to a power of attorney for personal care in other provinces, allows you to appoint someone to make healthcare and personal care decisions for you if you are unable to do so. They will make decisions about your health care, housing, meals, and clothing. 

    It’s important to choose someone as your representative who has good judgment and deeply understands your wishes, like a spouse, relative, or close friend. 

    What are the steps for creating an estate plan in B.C.?

    Creating an estate plan can seem like an overwhelming task. To simplify the process, you can follow these four steps:

    Step 1: Determine who should be named in your estate plan

    There are many important roles in an estate plan, and it’s important that you think carefully about who you select for each one. 

    Here are some of the most important roles in B.C. estate planning: 

    Step 2: Determine how you’d like your estate assets distributed

    The beneficiaries in your will are the people who will receive your estate assets and belongings after you pass away. Similarly, your trustees will receive any assets that you allocate to them in a living trust. 

    If you have joint ownership of an asset, like a property or home, make sure you understand what will happen to it after you pass away. For example, if you jointly own a home with a spouse and they have rights of survivorship, the home and any debt associated with it will pass directly to them when you pass away. 

    Step 3: Outline any other wishes you have so they can be honoured

    Creating an estate plan isn’t just about distributing your assets and belongings. You can outline other end-of-life plans, like your preferences for burial and funeral arrangements you would like your loved ones to follow. 

    If there are causes important to you, you can also leave legacy gifts like donations to charities. 

    Step 4: Formalize your estate plans

    Once you’ve had time to think about your preferences and wishes, you can begin to formalize your estate plans. Remember to prepare, sign, and have them witnessed properly so that they are legally valid. 

    What's the best way to create an estate plan in B.C.?

    Online platforms, like Willful, have made creating an estate plan even easier. In addition, B.C.'s passing of Bill 21 makes creating a will, an important aspect of estate planning, more accessible, convenient, and secure. 

    Get started by creating an online will and power of attorney documents with Willful today. It only takes 20 minutes from start to finish. 

    Get started for free →

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