New probate rules and the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) are providing greater certainty for individuals who put their last wishes into writing and simplifying the process for those in charge of distributing an estate.
WESA will come into force officially on March 31, 2014, modernizing B.C.'s current laws - which have provisions dating back to the 1800s - on inheritance and succession planning. By streamlining seven outdated acts into one single act, the new law will make estate planning easier for the general public to understand.
Government worked in close collaboration with stakeholders and the B.C. Law Institute to adopt this new set of clear, comprehensive laws that relate to the administration of estates and wills.
New probate rules also will come into effect in conjunction with WESA. Probate is the process of applying to the court for its ruling on whether a will is legally valid. The new rules will help to shorten and simplify that process for citizens by establishing provincewide standards for probate court procedures. The new rules also will create new intuitive, standardized forms for the public to use.
Simple and complex cases will each have their own probate application forms. Shorter forms will be used for more simple cases, helping to speed up the probate process for the vast majority of estates. Longer forms will be required for those cases that are more complex, for example, if a page out of the will appears to be missing or the will was not signed properly.
Setting the implementation date for WESA and the new probate rules well in advance of March 2014 provides the public and legal community with an opportunity to learn about and prepare for the broad scope of changes.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond -
"Our government is continually looking at ways to modernize the justice system, streamline court processes to create efficiency, and make laws clearer for the public. These changes reflect those goals and will reduce the stress of settling estates for many British Columbians."
"Setting the implementation date for the Wills, Estates and Succession Act and probate rules is one of the final steps in replacing outdated legislation that dates back more than 150 years."
"This announcement also serves as a good opportunity to remind British Columbians to review their estate planning, dust off existing wills, or think about their last wishes."
Catherine Romanko, public guardian and trustee -
"I am pleased that the Wills, Estates and Succession Act will soon come into force. The public guardian and trustee plays a major role under B.C.'s succession law in administering the estates of deceased persons and protecting the inheritance rights of children and vulnerable adults."
"Our staff contributed their expertise to the development of the new law and I am hopeful that this modern legal framework for succession will benefit British Columbians."
R.C. (Tino) Di Bella, chair, B.C. Law Institute -
"BCLI enthusiastically welcomes the announcement of the implementation date for WESA and the new probate rules. This body of legislation brings the estate and succession law of B.C. into the 21st century. BCLI is proud of the contribution made by our organization, our volunteers and staff towards its development."
- The new legislation will not invalidate any wills made before it came into effect. However, some of the laws governing the interpretation of wills may change, so individuals may wish to review their wills with a lawyer to ensure their wishes are upheld.
- Succession law governs transmission of property and money to others, usually after death, through a will or testament. The law of succession is among the most archaic areas of law.
- British Columbia's legislation governing succession law was last comprehensively reviewed in 1920, with the roots of some provisions tracing back to the Wills Act of 1837.
- The British Columbia Law Institute began the succession law reform project in 2003, with support from the ministry.
- The probate rules reform project began in 2007. Initial work was done by the British Columbia Law Institute, which was then built upon by the Ministry of Justice.
Information on the Wills, Estates and Succession Act: http://bit.ly/WdvhLQ
A backgrounder follows.
Ministry of Justice
Highlights of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act
The new Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) will clarify, simplify and streamline processes related to inheritance and the administration of estates. Extensive consultation was done prior to the introduction and passage of the new act. The legislation closely follows recommendations made by the British Columbia Law Institute. Feedback was also garnered from the public, Canadian Bar Association, estate and financial planners, bankers, legal advisors and the public guardian and trustee.
Among its benefits, the new act:
- Provides the courts with more latitude to ensure a deceased person's last wishes will be respected.
- Makes the process easier for a person to transfer the title of their spousal home when their spouse dies.
- Lowers the minimum age at which a person can make a will from 19 to 16 years old.
- Clarifies the process of inheritance when a person dies without leaving a will.
- Clarifies obligations relating to property inheritance in the context of Nisga'a and Treaty First Nation lands.
Ministry of Justice