Big Changes to Estate Planning in Ontario Have Arrived
Significant changes to Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) and the Substitute Decisions Act (“SDA”), among others, came into force on January 1st, 2022. The Accelerating Access to Justice Act (“AAJA”), which gained royal assent on April 19, 2021, updates the SLRA and the SDA to better serve Ontarians in modern times by, among other changes, providing for the following amendments:
- Virtual witnessing of Wills and POAs is now permanent.
Remote signing of wills and powers of attorney (“POAs”) was first introduced as a temporary measure during the original COVID-19 emergency order in 2020. The AAJA makes virtual signing a permanent option and tweaks some of the definitions from the original measures.
As of January 1, 2022, wills may be formally signed and witnessed virtually provided that (1) at least one person who acts as a witness is a lawyer or a paralegal, (2) the testator’s and witnesses’ signatures are made at the same time, and (3) the electronic method of communication used allows participants to see, hear and communicate with one another in real time. It is however important to note that Ontario still requires wet signatures on wills (i.e. with a pen). Electronic signatures on wills have not been approved.
A complementary amendment to the SDA now permanently permits the same virtual witnessing for powers of attorney.
- Marriage no longer revokes an existing will.
As of January 1, 2022, the AAJA repeals subsection 15(a) and section 16 of the SLRA thereby changing the law so that if someone with an existing will marries, their existing will is not automatically revoked.
- Separated spouses lose entitlements and appointments.
The AAJA amends section 17 of the SLRA to provide that, if at the time of the testator’s death the testator was separated from his or her spouse, then any gifts to the separated spouse in the will of the testator will be revoked and the will of the testator will be construed as if the separated spouse predeceased the testator (subject to any contrary intentions in the will). This will effectively extend the existing provision to treat separated spouses the same as divorced spouses under section 17 of the SLRA.
The AAJA also provides that the intestacy rules in the SLRA will no longer apply to separated spouses. This means that if a testator had no will and was separated from their spouse at the time of their death, the spousal entitlements provided for under the SLRA will no longer apply.
The definition of ‘separated’ in the AAJA provides for a number of scenarios, but will likely most often apply when, before the testator’s death, the testator and their spouse lived separately for 3 years due to the breakdown of their marriage and in cases where parties have entered into a separation agreement.
- Improperly signed wills are now treated more flexibly.
Effective January 1, 2022, the Superior Court of Justice is now authorized, on application, to make an order validating a document or writing that was not properly executed in complete compliance with the formal requirements for the execution of wills if the Court is satisfied that the document or writing sets out the testamentary intentions of the deceased or the deceased’s intention to revoke, alter or revive their will.
This is a significant change as previously the court had no discretion in determining whether a document purporting to be a ‘will’ satisfied the strict legislative requirements to constitute a valid will. Several provinces have already enacted similar legislation and the Ontario courts are likely to look to the decisions of the courts in those provinces when considering the application of this new power.
The AAJA expressly excludes electronically executed documents from the scope of this power. This means that the new authority of the court to validate testamentary documents is not intended to allow the court to declare a document or writing valid if that document or writing bears an electronic signature. Wet signatures are still required on the documents that are submitted for validation.
These beneficial changes are important to note for married, separated and long-term common-law couples alike but proper estate planning advice is still necessary to be sure appropriate provisions have been made for individuals and their family members. For more information on your estate planning needs please reach out to Lou Alexopoulos at firstname.lastname@example.org, 416.977.5024 or Yianni Alexopoulos at email@example.com, 416.572.7310.
 Schedule 9, section 1(2) of the AAJA
 Schedule 8 of the AAJA
 Schedule 9, section 2 and 3 of the AAJA
 Schedule 9, section 4(1) and (2) of the AAJA
 Schedule 9. section 6 of the AAJA
 Schedule 9, section 4(2) of the AAJA
 Schedule 9, section 5 of the AAJA