The long awaited Wills, Estates and Succession Act (“WESA”) will be coming into force on March 31, 2014 and it will bring with it many changes to the current wills, estates and succession laws in British Columbia. Consequently, once WESA comes into force on March 31, 2014, the current legislation (including the Wills Variation Act, the Estate Administration Act and the Probate Recognition Act) will be repealed.

There are several major changes which have the intention of modernizing the current rules and a short summary of some of the changes are as follows:

  • Several definitions and terminology within the prior Acts are being updated to reflect modern language.  For example, a “Testator” and “Testatrix” (i.e. a person making a will), will now be called the “Will-maker”.  The term “heir” will be “Intestate Successor”, the “Grant of Probate” will become a “Representation Grant”.  These changes, amongst several others, are intended to help clients understand the terms of their wills and the estate planning process.
  • Security Interests that encumber property gifted within a will, will remain with the gift unless otherwise specified within the will.  Therefore, if a gift is made to a beneficiary of  property, and such property is encumbered by debt, the debt will be transferred along with the property.  This could cause situations wherein a asset transferred under a will, may not have enough liquidity to make it worthwhile for the beneficiary to accept the gift.  Under the current law, the property is transferred free and clear of encumbrances and the estate is responsible for satisfying the debt (unless the will specifies otherwise).
  • Younger people can now make wills from the age of sixteen (16), as the age requirements for making a will go from nineteen (19) to sixteen (16).
  • Under WESA, the court will have the ability to cure any defects that occur due to the formal execution requirements of a will not being met.  For those that are not familiar, a will must be executed in the presence of two or more witnesses at the same time and then those witnesses must also sign the will in the presence of each other and the will-maker.  Currently, a mistake in the execution of a will could result in the entire will being declared invalid.
  • One of the major changes is to intestacy rights, if there is no valid will, or if a will does not deal with all of the estate, then the estate is distributed in accordance with intestacy laws.  These changes will change the amount left to the spouse of the deceased and children of the deceased.
  • New rules regarding the administration of small estates (under $50,000) and indebted estates have been included in WESA with the intention that these matters will be more streamlined.

These changes are just some of the many changes that are contained within WESA.   It is important to note that WESA will not invalidate current wills although it may change some of the ways in which estates and bequests made through current valid wills are adminstered.  We intend to issue further details and updates leading up to March 31, 2014 and encourage our clients to contact us with any questions they may have regarding their current estate planning documents.