What is Remote Witnessing?
Since the Covid Shutdown, lawyers have been permitted to witness wills remotely. We have been permitted to do so since March 19, 2020 pursuant to Ministerial Order 161. Remember, you need two witnesses when signing your will. This means that while your lawyer, your witness and you are communicating through Skype, Zoom, Wire, Microsoft Teams or some other form of audiovisual technology, you can sign your will and have it witnessed remotely. You could also do the same for representation agreements and enduring powers of attorney since March 19, 2020 pursuant to Minister Order 162.
The BC Government has decided to allow the remote witnessing of wills to continue permanently. Nothing to date has been said as to whether remote witnessing of representation agreements and enduring powers of attorneys will continue past the Covid Shutdown.
What Does Remote Witnessing Involve?
First, your lawyer will need to confirm your identity. Normally, a government issued photo ID would suffice. Your lawyer would compare the photo ID with your video image at the time of video conferencing. Then, once your lawyer has drafted your will, the final draft is sent to you and the second witness. Depending on the lawyer, you may receive it by email or by regular mail. You will each sign the will as the testator (the client) or a witness (your lawyer and one more witness) in your own separate space while simultaneously appearing to each other by video. This is called being in each other’s electronic presence. Once completed, all three signed copies will need to be compiled to form the final will. This is called signing in counterparts.
The above procedure can also be executed by electronic signatures rather than signing a hard copy. This is set out in section 35.3 of the Wills, Estates and Successions Act, 2020.
Pursuant to Bill 21 (Wills, Estates and Success Act, 2020), it appears that remote witnessing of wills is here to stay.