Wills and other documents can now be witnessed remotely

British Columbians can now have wills, powers of attorney and representation agreements witnessed remotely under new orders from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

The orders, which will remain in effect until the provincial state of emergency is lifted, allow for people to be “electronically present” — through video links, for example — rather than having to deal with such documents and agreements in person. The move is meant to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

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The Society of Notaries Public of B.C. said the previous requirement to witness the signing of these documents in person has been impossible or extremely difficult during the pandemic.

Ron Usher, general counsel and practice adviser for the society, said notaries and clients had gone to great lengths to get such documents completed during the pandemic. That has included witnessing through windows and handling documents knowing there was a risk they might carry COVID-19.

The new orders mean that a notary or lawyer will be able to see a document being signed in ink via video link and witness it remotely, he said.

“It’s a bit of a radical thing,” Usher said, “because the rule about signing of wills goes back longer than anyone can remember.”

The society said the orders allow people to safely deal with the personal planning documents that govern their estates, financial affairs, and health and personal care needs. Having the proper documents can help avoid costly and lengthy legal proceedings in the future, it said.

Usher said it’s good to see the government paying attention to the non-contentious side of legal issues.

“Non-contentious documents are what keep people out of court,” he said. “It’s a good example of everybody rowing in the same direction.”

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