Changes modernize inheritance laws

Updates to inheritance laws recognize blended families, common-law spouses, and same sex relationships.

A recent change to the provincial Wills, Estates, and Succession Act (WESA) attempts to modernize B.C. laws surrounding inheritance, some of which have stood since the 1800s.

In a press release, the Ministry of Justice said the new act, “provides the courts with more latitude to ensure a deceased person’s last wishes will be respected.”

It’s important to note that the new laws don’t change or invalidate existing wills. It does mean, however, that they could be interpreted differently by the courts than in the past. It may be advisable for individuals with particularly complicated wills to take the time to review them with a lawyer or notary public.

“This shouldn’t be a cause for worry for someone who has their estate planning documents all finished and tucked away,” said Susan Bell, of the local Notary Public firm, Plaa and Bell. “The changes implemented in this new legislation are created to clarify and simplify succession.”

Some of the changes that may be of interest include changes to the definition of “spouse” in B.C. as it applies to wills. Now, under B.C. law, you will be considered a spouse if you live together in a marriage-like relationship for two years, regardless of gender. However, you will stop being considered a spouse if the couple lives apart for two years with the intention of living separate.

In addition, now in B.C. a person can make a valid will once they turn 16 years-old.

One of the new rules that Bell believes people may appreciate involves survivorship in a case where both spouses die at the same time.

“Until the changes came into effect the younger was presumed to have survived the elder,” said Bell. “If a married couple, owning joint property, died together in a plane crash, the younger person would inherit from the elder and then all of their assets would be distributed according to the younger person’s will.

“In a society where a blended family has become commonplace, you can see how this might leave out many the would, and should, have a rightful claim on the estate.”

Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Shirley Bond, said in the recent press release, “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.”

“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.”


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