Alberta Law Reform Institute calls for electronic wills to be expressly permitted

New report recommends measure to improve access to justice

Benjamin Lof - 03 November 2023

The Alberta Law Reform Institute (ALRI), an affiliated institute housed in the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, is calling for legal reform that would allow Albertans to have electronically created wills, giving more people access to this important estate planning tool.

In their newly-released report, Creation of Electronic Wills, ALRI found that over 50 percent of Albertans don’t have a will and that more would make one if the process was simpler.

According to the report, “having the option to create an electronic will could make it easier for people, especially those in rural or remote areas, who face barriers accessing legal help such as costs, travel, time constraints and difficulty coordinating the required in-person witnesses,”

Informed by consultations with hundreds of Albertans and estate planning practitioners, ALRI’s publication argues that allowing electronic wills would ultimately improve access to justice.

The broader goal of the report’s recommendations is to provide legal certainty, predictability and accessibility, while maintaining the integrity and security of the testamentary process.

Electronic wills are created, signed and stored in a completely electronic form – there are no paper copies. In Alberta, the Wills and Succession Act governs the creation of wills but does not expressly deal with electronic wills.

The report finds that this omission can lead to a lack of clarity for lawyers, estate professionals and the public, given the increasing use of digital tools to manage personal affairs, and reforms acknowledging electronic wills already brought in by other jurisdictions such as British Columbia and several American states.

ALRI recommends that the formalities for digital wills be based on those for paper wills, namely that they’re readable as electronic text, and signed by the testator and two witnesses (present at the same time) using electronic signatures.

The report also makes recommendations regarding electronic holograph wills, video formats, the dispensing power and remote witnessing, the latter which ALRI helped craft temporary protocol for during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A summary of the Institute’s report can be found here.