With a new set of legislation already in place with more changes in the pipeline, the Estate law of Ontario has just received a couple of much-needed changes. The Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 was initially introduced last February as an effort to modernize an outdated system. With all the changes, you need to consult with your estate planning attorney to discuss how these changes should affect your estate. For now, here’s a quick guide on what these changes could mean for the general public.
What Has Changed in Ontario’s Estate Laws?
Bill 245, also known as the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021, received royal assent last April 19, 2021. As the bill has already reached this level of approval, let’s discuss the different changes enumerated in Schedule 9 of Bill 245.
Witnessing of Wills
The Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA) has been amended to provide for the remote witnessing of wills through the use of audio-visual communications technology. This is only applicable to wills made on and after April 7, 2020. Also, the execution of a will in counterparts will now be permitted.
Under existing laws, if an individual passes away and their last will predates a judgment of divorce or a declaration of an annulment, the provisions in their will that related to the former spouse are revoked, and the will is construed as if their former spouse had predeceased them unless the will indicates a contrary intention. The proposed amendments to the SLRA would extend the construction of the will that is used where spouses are divorced from situations where married spouses are separated but not divorced. The proposed amendments include a provision defining when a spouse is considered to be separated from their deceased spouse.
These proposed amendments could be a welcome change to many as they are likely to be viewed as facilitating an estate distribution that more accurately reflects the intentions of most deceased individuals. However, they do introduce a challenge with respect to the factual determination of whether or not spouses are considered to be separated for the purposes of the legislation. While there will be situations that will be clear, there are also likely to be many situations that are not as clear.
No Revocation of Wills by Marriage
Based on the SLRAs existing provisions, when a person is getting married, their will is automatically revoked. This aims to protect the spouse as the will predates marriage, making the spouse entitled to a share of the person’s estate in case they suffer an untimely death. This assumes that their last will, which predates the marriage, may not provide for their spouse and may instead only benefit children, parents, siblings, etc.
Bill 245 repeals these provisions, which would add an additional level of protection for vulnerable individuals and their estates. This can have a significant impact on estate planning, making it more important for individuals to update their existing wills right after getting married.
These are just a few of the notable changes brought about by the introduction of Bill 245 this year. This focuses mainly on the amendment of the SLRA. The Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 still has a lot of other changes that are better discussed in a separate post.
Ontario Wills & Estate Plans offer quality legal advice from some of Ontario’s top lawyers. We recognize that different circumstances call for their own unique solutions. Our team will help you with your estate planning, beneficiary designations, and powers of attorney without using a one-size-fits-all approach. Contact our firm if you need assistance from an estate lawyer.