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You Need A New Will

richard2funeral3[1]If you haven’t done a Will since April 2014, it’s time.  BC has a new Wills, Estates, and Succession Act (WESA).  It changes a lot of the basic assumptions about inheritance.  These changes affect both inheritance rules where there is a Will, and inheritances without a Will.  Many Wills done before April 2014 will be invalid or have sections which may be deemed invalid.

A Will still needs to be signed by the Will-maker, and witnessed by two adults.  But WESA permits Wills to be electronic files which are both viewable and printable.  Tweets?  Screen captures?  Who knows?  Lots of lawsuits….

Wills can be written by anyone 16 or older, but witnesses must be 19 (weird).  A Will can be used to appoint a guardian – in the Family Law sense – and such an appointment appears to be uncontestable.  Wills are no longer revoked by marriage – but are by divorce.  They can be revoked by separation, or by “termination” of a relationship (whatever that means).  More lawsuits.

WESA allows the Court to “rectify” Wills.  In other words, “correct” the Will to provide for what the Court determines was the deceased’s real intention.  Evidence can be taken from just about anything – old letters, notes in the lawyer’s file, Facebook entries – whatever.  If you “unfriend” your common-law spouse, or change your status from “in a relationship” to “single” — does that revoke the Will?  More lawsuits.

If you die without a Will, WESA changes the old rules about who inherits.  No one past the “4th degree” can inherit.  That leaves out great-nieces, first cousins once removed, and great-great-great grandchildren.  If you die without a Will and no relatives within the 4th degree – your estate goes to the government of BC.  We all love to give money to the government!

Surviving spouses no longer get the right to remain in the family home (the “life estate”).  Even joint tenancies are severed on death.  Your spouse may be required to buy “your” share of the home, instead of simply receiving it by survivorship.  Sorry for your loss, now get out.

WESA changes the rules of survivorship.  Now, any heir MUST survive you by at least five days.  There are enormous changes about how spouses and families (esp. step-children) are treated.  Step-children appear to get nothing.  WESA permits more than one spouse to claim a share in the estate.  No one seems to know if this recognizes polygamy, or is intended to protect “common law” spouses where there is a previous spouse, but no divorce.  More lawsuits.

See the theme: If you die without a Will, or have a Will which violates sections of WESA, your estate may be tied up in the delay, stress, and expense of a lawsuit.  Do a new Will!

The vast changes in inheritance law under WESA has three results:

  1. Everyone should consult a lawyer about preparing a new Will;
  2. A lot of people who thought they knew what would happen on their own death, their parent’s death, or their spouse’s death are in for a surprise; and
  3. There is going to be a gigantic increase in estate litigation — especially about estates with no Will, or a Will pre-dating WESA.