At Journey Law, we have been working remotely for over a month. We are not seeing clients face to face.
Our move to remote work was on almost no notice, so within our office, there are a lot of pieces we are still putting into place a month later.
Province-wide, the legal profession was not built for this. It has been a challenge to provide legal services safely in the current environment, and lawyers have been watching the legal system struggle to adapt to this environment.
In Ontario, for a will and a power of attorney to be valid, the documents need to be signed by the grantor, with two witnesses present, and the grantor needs to see the witnesses sign as well. This is not possible to do under the current COVID-19 emergency in Ontario.
So, what do we do? Our clients still need to get their wills and powers of attorney completed. The pandemic has increased the number of clients engaging our office to do their wills and powers of attorney. We have attempted to create some workable solutions for our clients, with little success, given the current law.
Lawyers in Ontario had no other options until last week, when the Attorney General announced that wills can be witnessed over video. Strict requirements still apply.
We have reviewed all the options in great detail to determine how to best serve our clients. There is no one option that will work for everyone, but below are the options we will be discussing with our clients during the emergency period.
All of these options will begin with our standard intake process, where the client(s) fill out our questionnaire and we have a planning meeting by phone or video and one or two other meetings to discuss and review the drafted documents. It is even more important now to carefully review everything and confirm that your wishes are accurately reflected in the documents that you sign.
For the actual signing, which requires signatures in ink, the options are this:
- Where a client can have two proper witnesses (over 18, not beneficiaries or spouses of beneficiaries), we will send out the documents for signing by the client and their two witnesses. We will provide the client with a very detailed checklist for when the documents are signed, and one of our lawyers can be present by video to confirm the legal requirements for signing and witnessing are met. This option is likely only appropriate for essential workers who may be able to have co-workers act as witnesses. We would not ask any of our clients to break social distancing protocols to execute their documents.
- For clients who are comfortable using technology, we can offer video witnessing. This would require up to three video calls, and the document is not valid until all parties have signed, and an additional affidavit is required to confirm the requirements in the emergency order have been met. This option is not appropriate for very urgent situations, or for situations where clients are not comfortable with video or do not have the means to do three video calls. The second witness here may be an adult family member of Michele’s, which would shorten the procedure and require only two video calls.
- Our second to last option is to offer a driveway signing at Michele’s home in Cornwall, located hear the hospital. All documents will have been reviewed in advance and will be on a table outside. The client will drive up and sign, while Michele and a witness watch from inside or from a distance outside. Then, Michele and the witness will sign while the client watches from their vehicle. All parties will be required to wear gloves and masks, and there will be no interaction between the parties. In this instance, the second witness may be an adult family member of Michele’s as well. We may be able to offer this option in a parking lot for clients who have limited mobility or no access to a vehicle, but the controlled environment of Michele’s driveway is preferred for safety reasons.
- If no other option is available, the only option for the client is to execute a holograph will, with formal instructions from Michele. A holograph will is a will that is entirely in the testator’s own handwriting and does not require any witnesses. There is no option to execute a holograph power of attorney in Ontario, so this option is not appropriate where the client needs power of attorney documents as well.
This is a difficult time for all of us. We are doing our best to continue to offer you necessary services in a safe and effective manner. There may be one or two other options beyond those listed above in very specific situations. We will ensure that we offer the best option for your needs.
If you are ready to get started with your will and powers of attorney, you can begin your intake here.