Highlights of Changes to BC’s Wills and Estate Legislation

Effective March 31, 2014, the Wills, Estate and Succession Act (“WESA”) came into force, consolidating a number of pieces of legislation governing Wills and estates in BC.  The aim of WESA is to modernize the manner in which estates are administered and inheritances are handled.  There are various changes that are going to impact how Wills are interpreted and alter the process for administering estates, both a deceased leaves a Will or dies without one.  It is impossible to summarize all of the changes but here are some points of interest:

Where there are existing Wills

  • Your current Will does not become invalid as a result of WESA   However, the new rules will apply regardless of when a Will is prepared and may impact gifts you intend to make
  • A Will in BC is no longer going to be revoked by marriage.
  • A person over the age of 16 may make a Will, down from the age of 19.  You need still be 19 to witness a Will however.
  • A document that may not satisfy the formal requirements of a Will may be shown to contain enough information to illustrate the intent of a deceased person.
  • The Court may now correct clerical or technical errors in a Will to ensure a deceased’s wishes are honoured.
  • Real property and personal property will now be applied equally to satisfy an estate’s debts. Previously, personal property gifts were applied first to pay debts, meaning those inheriting any land received more protection.

If someone dies without a Will

  • A surviving spouse will be entitled to the first $300,000 of the Estate and ½ of the remainder with the other ½ being shared by the children of that marriage.  This represents an increase in the initial entitlement from $65,000 in the current regime.
  • If a deceased leaves children but none are common to the marriage, the spouse is entitled to the first $150,000 and ½ of the remainder with the other ½ being shared by the children of the previous relationship.
  • Assuming the home is not jointly owned, a surviving spouse will no longer be entitled to a life estate in the home.  WESA now provides an option to purchase the home using their initial amount as a credit towards the value of the home.

With the coming changes under WESA, it is timely to review your current Will to ensure you intentions on the administration and distribution of your estate are properly reflected.