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West coast prepares for inheritance law changes

Josh Eisen

By Josh Eisen

Our friends on the west coast are getting ready for major changes to the law of inheritance. The British Columbia legislature passed the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act (the “WESA”) on September 24, 2009. The Act comes into force on March 31, 2014.  The WESA replaces B.C.’s current legislation, the Wills Act. The text of the bill is available here. It should be noted, however, that there have been a few amendments, and the WESA will look a little bit different when it comes into force.

The new bill has a number of notable effects on inheritance law in British Columbia.  These are just a few:

  • The WESA clarifies the distribution of property on intestacy.
  • It changes the minimum age at which most people can make a will, lowering it from 19 to 16.
  • The WESA contains special provisions dealing with cultural property and the estates of certain members of the Nisga’a and Treaty First Nations.
  • The rules and processes for applying for probate are set to change in March when the Act comes into effect.
  • New provisions deal with the matrimonial home and spousal property on the death of one of the spouses without a will.
  • The Act provides guidance on when extrinsic evidence will be admissible for the purpose of interpreting ambiguities in a will.
  • Where a document hasn’t been executed as a will according to the formal requirements, the Act allows the court to treat these as valid wills if it determines that they represent the testamentary intentions of the deceased, even if the document only exists as an electronic record.

If you live in B.C., have a B.C. will, or own property in that province, your will should continue to be valid, but you may want to see a lawyer and revisit your estate plan to ensure that the WESA doesn’t affect its meaning or effect.

Ontario’s legislation, the Succession Law Reform Act, has undergone amendments, but is substantially the same as it was when first enacted in 1978. Perhaps the WESA will inspire Ontario to update its own legislation in the future.

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