There’s a sweeping new wills law in B.C. you should know about. Called the Wills, Estate and Succession Act (WESA), it came into effect on March 31, 2014. WESA overhauls many of the rules about wills and what can happen with your estate – some of the new rules could affect you.

Let’s start with this one. Remember the potboiler flick “Body Heat” starring Kathleen Turner and William Hurt? It turned on the rule that a will is generally revoked (cancelled) if the person who made the will later marries. Many people (and in the movie, a careless young lawyer) don’t know or overlook this old rule.

Well, under the new law, marriage won’t cancel a will anymore. So if you’ve made a will and have since gotten married, take a look and see if your will still does what you want.

A will pre-dating WESA remains in effect and is still legal

Under the new law, you can also now make a will at the age of 16 already, not 19. Before, only a few “minors” could do that, like a legally married minor or a sailor.

Rules have also changed if you die without a will. For example, if all your children are yours and your spouse’s children, your spouse now gets the first $300,000 of your estate (not $65,000 as before), but only the first $150,000 if there are children from previous relationships.

And if you die without a will, your spouse now has the choice to buy the family home (or treat it as part of his/her share of your estate) – the new law does away with your spouse getting a “life estate” in it, meaning the right to live there till he/she dies. There is only a short 180-day window to make this choice.

And WESA treats a couple who have lived together for two years in “a marriage-like relationship” (including same-sex couples) much the same as formally married couples.

WESA also gives the courts more leeway to fix (validate) wills that don’t meet will-making technicalities, and to treat other records or documents as a will (that before would not have counted as one). This is intended to help carry out the wishes of the will-maker better than before (may increase the chance of disputes too, however).

But the new law preserves the right of a will-maker’s spouse or children to challenge a will in court if they believe it doesn’t adequately provide for them.

Still, the key take-away is that you’re best off making a proper will in the first place. Almost half of all adults in B.C. don’t have one – even though a will is your best chance to see your assets dealt with as you want. And making a will helps avoid fights, costly court house trips and maybe permanent estrangement among your loved ones later.

This primer only touches on a few highlights. Though streamlined, the new law is complex and can be a bit of a mine-field. To make a will, do some estate planning, settle an estate or dispute a will, be sure to ask us for legal help.

Written by Janice and George Mucalov, LL.B.s with contribution by COBBETT & COTTON. This column provides information only and must not be relied on for legal advice. Please contact COBBETT & COTTON for legal advice concerning your particular case. Names of the parties in reported cases have been changed or removed to protect their identity. Lawyer Janice Mucalov is an award-winning legal writer. “You and the Law” is a registered trade-mark. ©Janice and George Mucalov.

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