Bill 245: Accelerating Access to Justice Act – New Changes to Wills and Estates

Posted on 9 November 2021 Back to News

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If you are interested in a parcel of land and have a specific use that you want to confirm is permitted for the parcel, the first step is to check the municipality’s Official Plan, zoning map and zoning by-law(s). Asking the municipality, and possibly the County, to confirm the parcel’s current zoning can be of great assistance as they are more familiar with their Official Plan and by-laws. If the proposed use fits within the zoning provisions, then the use is an approved use under its current zoning. Even so, there may be one additional step required depending on the municipality. If the proposed use is a change to the current use of the property you may be required to obtain Site Plan Approval from the municipality.

It is a time of change in the world of Wills and Estates. On April 19, 2021, Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021, received Royal Assent. The Bill contains several highly anticipated updates to the Succession Law Reform Act that have important consequences for all Ontarians looking to have a Will drawn up or amended. Most crucially, the provincial legislature has decided that Ontario will no longer be a ‘strict compliance’ jurisdiction with respect to the formal validity of Wills. We are entering into an era of ‘substantial compliance’ wherein a failure to comply with the formalities of execution will not necessarily invalidate a Will. These changes are expected to come into force in 2022.

In a departure from the province’s legal status quo, Bill 245 will introduce a section in the Succession Law Reform Act that provides the court with the authority to declare that a Will is valid even if it fails to comply with the requisite formalities of execution. This section will apply to those who die after January 1, 2022 and it remains to be seen what impact it will have. What is clear is that this is a real victory for those who champion the importance of upholding a Testator’s intention as expressed in their Will, even if the Will does not strictly comply with certain formalities.

Another important change in the law relates to the impact of marriages on the validity of Wills. Many Ontarians may not know that when you get married your existing Will is automatically revoked unless it is made in contemplation of marriage. Bill 245 will remove this legislative rule and provide relief to many individuals who unwittingly find themselves without a valid Will following their wedding. This change will also accomplish the goal of protecting vulnerable individuals who are victimized by predatory marriages, which revoke their Will and leave their intended beneficiaries empty-handed after they have passed away.

The Bill also confirms that the COVID-era practice of remote Will signing is here to stay. For the foreseeable future, Wills may be signed and witnessed through the means of audio-visual communication technology. This is a major step towards promoting access to justice for Ontarians who lack reliable means of transportation or who live in remote communities with a dearth of legal professionals.

To learn more about how these amendments should factor into your personal planning decisions, please contact our firm.

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