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Wills Act replacement affects British Columbia inheritors

The wills people leave to provide for their loved ones must be executed to have the intended effect. On March 31, 2014, the Parliament of British Columbia enacted a Wills, Estates and Succession Act that made some changes to the existing laws. While the new legislation was written to ease the inheritance process, it grants courts powers that may result in notable changes in how wills are handled and how people structure their estates.

With the Wills Act replacement, courts were given the authority to accept some informal documents as valid wills. When wills are unclear, parties in dispute may also present the court with evidence from external sources. Whereas wills were once nullified by marriages, they now retain their validity following new unions. Courts also have jurisdiction over gifts. Land and personal property are applied to estate debts, and courts may decide to allow will witnesses to receive property.

These new rules may not guarantee that someone's will is executed precisely as they intended. When wills bequeath properties that no longer belong to the testator, for instance, these properties could be subject to ademption by extinction; because the asset doesn't belong to the estate, its beneficiary receives nothing apart from other gifts. Courts have discretion over when to enact these will corrections.

Changes in probate and will law may affect individuals and their estates differently. Execution can depend on factors like how a document is structured or the nature of the particular assets being distributed. Those with existing wills may find it helpful to educate themselves on the new laws and learn how their current plans could be affected.

Source: British Columbia gov, "Division 4 – Altering, Revoking and Reviving Wills", December 30, 2014

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