Five things to know about estate law in British Columbia

This article lists five important changes in British Columbia estate law that have occurred under WESA.

British Columbia's Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) became law in early 2014 and, as the Globe and Mail notes, was a major shift in estate law in the province. WESA includes a number of features that many British Columbians, especially those whose knowledge of estate administration involves only pre-WESA legislation, may find surprising. To help readers form a better understanding of estate law in the province, below are five important changes brought forth by WESA.

Spousal inheritance

In the case of intestate succession (meaning when the deceased leaves no will) the spouse now receives the first $300,000 from the estate, but only if the deceased person had no children from a previous relationship. In cases where the deceased did have children, then the spouse receives the first $150,000 from the estate.

Parentelic scheme

Before WESA came into force, estate administration was run according to a "closeness to blood relations" scheme, meaning the estate would be passed on to the closest next of kin, no matter how distant he or she may have actually been in relationship to the deceased. Under WESA, B.C. estate law now uses a parentelic scheme, meaning heirs are limited to the fourth degree of relationship. When an heir cannot be found, the estate now goes to the Crown.

Undue influence

WESA reverses the onus for proving undue influence when a will is challenged. Prior to WESA, the onus was on the person challenging the will to prove that undue influence had taken place. Now the beneficiary who is being accused of undue influence will be the one who has to prove that the will is valid.

Previously drafted wills

Wills that were drafted prior to March 31, 2014, when WESA became law, are still valid in British Columbia, although they will now be interpreted according to the rules set down in WESA. Furthermore, marriage no longer revokes a will, as was the case previously; however, wills that had previously been revoked by marriage will remain invalid.

Evidence

As the Vancouver Sun reports, the most controversial change brought about by WESA is the expanded power given to courts to determine the intentions of the will-maker. Evidence, such as notes, recordings, and emails - that may show the will-maker's true intentions - can be considered as having the same legal force as a will even if such documents do not meet the usual formal requirements of a legal document. This change, although highly contentious, is meant to ensure that the deceased's wishes are not thwarted because of their failure to comply with legal technicalities.

WESA includes numerous changes that can be confusing even for those who are experienced in estate administration. Understanding these changes, however, is vital to ensuring that an estate is distributed according to the deceased's wishes. An experienced wills and estates lawyer can assist anybody, whether they want to draft a will or are involved in administering an estate, better understand how these changes affect their particular situation.