Legal advice for testators more important than ever as Ontario scraps strict compliance

Getting legal advice is more important than ever for testatorsafter Ontario moved a step closer to recognizing unconventional wills.  

The Ford administration’s recently passed Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, moves the province from a “strict compliance” regime to one of “substantial compliance,” which means that judges can now validate wills that would otherwise have been declared void due to technical errors.

In other provinces, substantial compliance has allowed for the validation of unsigned or improperly witnessed wills, or even notes written in a computer document.

Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act already allowed for the recognition of unwitnessed documents known as Holograph Wills – as long as they are entirely handwritten and signed by the testators themselves – but the new law means it’s likely a wider range of homemade testamentary documents will be submitted for probate by beneficiaries. 

Until the passage of Bill 245, Ontario was one of the last strict-compliance hold-outs in Canada, without any legal mechanism for curing the faults in an invalid will. 

That may be good news for some testators and intended beneficiaries who will not be penalized with intestacy for minor mistakes, but the problem with the looser substantial-compliance approach and the uncertainty that comes with it is that itencourages surviving relatives named in faulty wills to turn to the courts.

The best way for testators to avoid the expense and delay of this kind of estate litigation is to hire an experienced lawyer who can ensure their will is not only properly executed, but also accurately reflects their wishes.

The more complicated and valuable your assets are, the more essential it is to obtain sound legal advice before finalizing an estate plan.

This wasn’t the only major change ushered in via Bill 245, which has proven to be one of the most significant pieces of estates legislation in years.

The new law also cemented the status of virtual witnessing, after Covid-era emergency regulations allowing testators to have their wills witnessed remotely were made permanent. 

In addition, Bill 245 repealed s. 16 of SLRA, which means that marriage no longer revokes a will in Ontario. Attorney General Doug Downey claimed the change will help protect victims of predatory marriages, but in my opinion, the old rule was also valuable for preserving the rights of new spouses in non-predatory second or third marriages.

In any case, a major life event like a wedding remains the perfect time to either make your first will, or to revisit an existing one to make sure all of your original choices still make sense.  

Disclaimer: The content on this web site is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this web site are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.

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