Canadians rush to prepare their wills amid ongoing COVID-19 uncertainty
The Ontario government has issued an emergency order to allow virtual signing of wills and powers of attorney through online video platforms
TORONTO — The new coronavirus that has spread rapidly throughout Canada appears to have led to a sharp demand for wills.
Erin Bury, CEO of the Toronto-based online service Willful, said her business has been busy ever since March 12 – the day after actor Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive for coronavirus and the day after the NBA shut down.
“The first eight days of April compared to the first few days of March, it’s been a 620% increase in sales, and 450% increase in traffic,” Bury said.
This time last month, “nobody was really concerned about it, everyone was still in the mindset of, ‘Oh, it’s just the flu.”’
The Ontario government removed one of the big barriers to writing wills last week when it issued an emergency order to allow virtual signing of wills and powers of attorney through online video platforms.
While other provinces offer more flexibility, Ontario’s laws required in-person witnessing of both wills and powers of attorney by two people, who are neither a beneficiary nor a spouse of a beneficiary.
“That’s been the biggest question that we’ve gotten from seniors, is: ‘How can I actually get this executed?’ Not just the documents created, but executed during COVID?” Bury said.
“And the best answer we had (before the emergency order) was ‘Well, wear gloves and make sure you respect the six-feet rule.’ Virtual witnessing … is the biggest advancement in estate law in a long time and something that will make it a lot easier for people to get this done during COVID.”
The illness causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
Dying without a will risks having your assets distributed according to a provincial formula, which varies across the country.
If there is no surviving parent, minor children would go to whoever applies to be the guardian – even if it’s a relative you didn’t like. Pets most often end up in shelters.
It also takes longer to administer an estate and leads to guesswork and uncertainty – and arguments – among family members.
Willful charges between $99 and $249, which includes future updates. A traditional lawyer charges anywhere from $400 into the four figures, depending on geography and the complexity of the estate.
Also key is power of attorney, particularly since COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized aren’t allowed visitors, and often can’t express their wishes to doctors or loved ones.
“If you were to get COVID and you were on a ventilator and you weren’t able to communicate, a power of attorney puts someone in charge of making medical decisions on your behalf and it really allows you to say, ‘You know what? I want you to pull the plug if anything happens,’ or ‘No, keep me on life support if that is ever the case,”’ Bury said.
“It’s more important now than ever, because having the emergency plans in place means that you’re basically giving someone the power to speak on your behalf, whether you’re alive and unable to communicate, or you’ve passed away.”