Canadians rush to draft online wills amidst coronavirus crisis

Many Canadians have begun drawing up their wills and signing powers of attorney over the past two weeks as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many Canadians have begun drawing up their wills and signing powers of attorney over the past two weeks in lieu of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Global News.

An online service that allows Canadians to create their own legal documents called For Willful has seen a spike in the number of Canadians utilizing their service over the past two weeks. Traffic to their website is up by 80 percent and sales are 160 percent higher than usual, since March 16.

“When we’re faced with something like a pandemic, obviously it causes people to think more about their own mortality plans,” said Erin Bury, CEO of For Willful. The pandemic has a lot of people thinking about their emergency plans, she explained.

Bury acknowledged that the jump sales may also be due to Canadians inability to visit lawyers in person at this time. “They have more time to get to those tasks that might have fallen to the bottom of the list previously,” she said.

The online wills still have to be printed and signed by two witnesses in person however, in order to be legally binding, Bury added.

Canadian Legal Wills, another online company that helps people create legal documents has picked up on the trend as well.

President and co-founder Tim Hewson noticed an “unprecedented” rise in demand for their company's service across the country as well as in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Normally the company would see an increase in sales around the beginning of the year and then during tax season, said Hewson, but that this pales in comparison to the traffic brought on by the pandemic.

“We’re seeing probably three to four times the normal traffic,” said Hewson. “This is absolutely unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like this kind of interest in will writing.”

Both For Wilfull and Canadian Legal Wills have found that Canadians aren't just looking for wills, they’re also filling out paperwork for powers of attorney.

“A power of attorney comes into effect when you’re still alive, but you are unable to communicate, maybe you’re in an accident or you are incapacitated,” said Bury. “That appoints someone who can pay your bills and make medical decisions on your behalf.”

A power of attorney is important for any Canadian adult, expressed Bury, even for those who are still young.

Hewson feels that wills are equally as important, “We think everybody should have a will, every adult should have a will,” he said. “You shouldn’t feel that you need a will just if your demise is imminent. Everybody should have a will as part of responsible financial planning.”

Creating a will isn't a document that you just sign once but one that can and should be changed throughout the course of one’s life. This allows for the testate (the person signing the will) to bring it up to date, accounting for things such as family growth and new assets.

A survey from the Angus Reid Institute survey conducted in January 2018 revealed that many Canadians don't have a will. The survey discovered that 51 per cent of Canadians had no last will or testament, and of those who did, 35 per cent of them weren't up to date.

Nicole Ewing, a Canadian strategist with Edward Jones, believes that the survey's findings are a serious problem for loved ones who are left behind. “There’s legislation in each province that would dictate what happens in the event that an individual doesn’t have a will,” said Ewing. “So there are rules that will apply and they might not be the ones he would want to apply to yourself and your family.”

Having a will is about protecting loved ones, minors and beneficiaries, whereas dying without a will can result in a trail of unpaid bills, taxes and courtroom battles for those still alive who are closest to you. In addition, those left behind won’t get a say in how the assets will be divvied up.

The rules surrounding wills can differ from province to province said Ewing, regarding common-law couples and married spouses for example. Certain provinces will allow for automatic inheritance to the surviving spouse while other provinces are more complex.

Ewing said that individualized advice from lawyers is likely to be more reliable, as more and more Canadians have shown interest in the matter.

Canadians should also consider coordinating with their financial advisors and accountants when it comes to drawing up a will, recommended Ewing. A beneficiary who is listed on a bank account, should be in line with what is detailed in the will as an example.

“I think they should be all partnering together to help put the best document in place, because we want to ensure that your planning is coordinated,” she added.