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Preparing or Updating Your Will During Coronavirus - What you should know

What you should know

It’s a good time to prepare or update your will

“Writing a will has moved from my should-do list to a top priority. I’m providing childcare for kids of essential workers, and more kids are returning to care as restrictions lift. When you’re caring for little ones — you hold them, you feed them — it’s impossible to practise physical distancing. I’m proud to do my part. But I know going to work right now is a risk to my health and my family’s.”

– Piper, Lynn Valley

We all want to make sure our loved ones are taken care of when we’re gone. In this time of uncertainty, thinking about who will get your things is a crucial part of planning, should the worst happen. 

You might be writing a will for the first time. Or, you might have an old will sitting in a filing cabinet. Maybe you’ve since had kids, or gotten married or divorced. The bottom line is: if you’re an adult with any sort of assets or dependents, you should have a will that reflects your current wishes and circumstances.

Learn more about why you should prepare a will, then continue onto our information about preparing your will. You can create a simple will with MyLawBC by Legal Aid BC. This online resource guides you to prepare a simple will through a set of questions.

If you already have a will and want to update it, see our information on changing or cancelling your will

If you have minor children

A will lets you name a guardian for any minor children you have. You should also provide some money for the guardian to cover the costs of raising your children. 

An effective will considers likely scenarios, and puts plans in place should they occur. The risk of coronavirus in our communities has heightened our awareness (and need) for this level of planning. Some things to consider include:

  • Your will should cover what you want to happen if both you and your spouse pass away. Have a contingency plan: decide who your things should go to if your spouse is no longer around, either.
  • Your will should create a trust for gifts you leave to any minor beneficiaries. Otherwise, the minor’s share of the estate may need to be paid to the Public Guardian and Trustee — and they’ll hold onto it for the minor in trust until they turn 19. 
  • When choosing a guardian, consider health factors. Are there any factors that may limit the person’s life expectancy or ability to parent? Consider whether coronavirus poses extra risks to the person’s health. Are they a frontline healthcare worker? Do they have a health condition that puts them at high risk? This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose the person you think is otherwise the best choice. Other factors (like shared values) are important, too! But make sure to name one or two backup guardians.

Choosing your executor

In your will, you must name a person ⁠— the “executor” ⁠— to carry out your instructions. There are a number of things to consider in choosing an executor. An executor should be someone you trust to carry out the instructions in your will. Most people ask a family member or close friend. 

Your executor should be someone who’s likely to outlive you. Does coronavirus pose extra risks to the executor’s health? Are they in a high-risk category due to their occupation or underlying health conditions? This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose the person you want. But make sure to name one or two alternate (backup) executors.

If you’re worried about your immediate health

Plan ahead. Tell your executor where you keep your original will. It should be easy for them to access. As well, keep an up-to-date and detailed record of everything you own and owe. For example, record your bank accounts, retirement benefit plans, insurance policies, real estate, and pension benefits. Plus: note your digital passwords. These are like keys to your records, and will make life much easier for your executor.

You can work with a lawyer or notary public

Getting help from an experienced estates lawyer or notary public is the safest way to avoid mistakes. Knowing your will is properly drafted can give you peace of mind.

Wondering whether it’s possible to work with a lawyer or notary at a distance? Talk to a lawyer or notary about your particular circumstances and any concerns you have. Most should be able to work remotely to assist you at this time. Below, we discuss some options for signing and witnessing your will during coronavirus.

Notaries can prepare simple wills. Getting advice from a lawyer is particularly important when there are features such as a blended family, a charitable gift, property outside of British Columbia, a family business, a desire or need to hold property in trust for someone (such as a minor), or a wish to leave certain people out of your will.

If you think someone might challenge the validity of your will

A will can only be followed if it’s valid. If a will is proven in court to be invalid, the instructions in it will be ignored. If this happens, your most recent valid will must be followed instead. If you don’t have a previous will that is valid, your estate will be divided under the law as if there is no will.

Some common reasons why another person might challenge the validity of your will include:

  • you didn’t understand what it said, when you made it,
  • it didn’t reflect your wishes, or
  • someone pressured you or unduly influenced you to make the will, or a part of it.

If you’re unwell or isolated, or if you make significant changes to your will shortly before you pass away that might attract suspicion, your will may be vulnerable to such challenges. Some steps you can take to reduce this risk include:

  • Getting help from a lawyer or a notary public. A lawyer or notary must be satisfied that you’re mentally capable of making the will. And they should specifically look for suspicious circumstances.
  • Making an electronic recording of the signing and witnessing of the will. This may be useful evidence if someone challenged the will in the future.
  • Talking to the beneficiaries and anyone who might be expecting a gift under the will. Clearly express your wishes to your beneficiaries and let them know what the will says. You might also want to talk to anyone who might be expecting a gift, but won’t be receiving one (such as an adult child). Hearing this directly from you may give them peace of mind about your true intentions, and avoid doubts later.