During the past two years, there are two words I have heard and read more than any other time in my life: unprecedented and digitization. To be fair, the use of these words is entirely relevant and valid. The pandemic has disrupted our lives and affected every industry from the way we work to the way we actually live, we have found a new normal, and that continues to evolve.
This disruption has been hard on us personally, after all it’s a drastic change, but from an industry perspective, it has made us question the processes we have in place and quickly inject digital efficiencies to create business continuity. The legal industry is no exception, it has relied on in-person meetings and paperwork to complete deals and transactions. It’s a slow and time-consuming process.
As a Notary Public in BC for more than fifteen years, I have consistently questioned why we haven’t adopted technology in our business and laws to help protect the legacy of our clients. Things are slowly starting to change — a change that customers have demanded in order to execute their legal paperwork digitally. We are in a place now where technology can ensure the secure exchange and storage of critical life planning documentation.
A big step was made on December 1st, when Bill 21 was put into effect in British Columbia This bill marks the first time that electronic wills and the use of remote signatures become available in British Columbia marking a significant shift in end-of-life planning. The changes will give electronic wills the same recognition as physical wills, and make it available for wills to be signed and stored in a secure, accessible digital format.
With less than 50% of Canadians having a will in place, this law will hopefully make it easier to create, store, and share wills and increase that percentage to help drive a smoother estate settlement process. More importantly, this can shift behaviour to taking a more proactive approach to estate management.
With document exchange and digital execution becoming widely accepted, what’s next? I have a few thoughts on what laws should evolve to spur the next wave of digital laws:
Mandatory Digital Storage – Bill 21 marks the first time digital storage of a legal document will be allowed in Canada but there needs to be stronger laws to drive digital storage adoption. My hope is that every new client that a lawyer or financial advisor begins working with is given a secure digital storage space that can guide and remind them to update their Estate on a regular basis while also providing the appropriate accessibility so that their families and loved ones are protected.
For professionals, this can be a massive time saver and actually help them be a stronger part of their clients lives. For instance, take a look at Lytton, BC; an entire city was destroyed by the fire that took place in 2021. That means lives, homes, and even important documentation was lost. If they had stored everything digitally it would mean one less worry.
Informational inheritance – The idea of inheritance has always been linked to a dollar value but now there is more at risk because without the right information your loved ones won’t be able to access critical information that would lead to the wealth legacy you worked so hard to build for them. For instance, to access crypto accounts you need a crypto key and without that, your loved ones won’t be able to do anything. There needs to be a law to ensure that families proactively update their digital estate once a year to ensure loved ones have what they need in case of the inevitable
Digital estate settlement – Currently the process to settle an estate takes two to three years, costing your family thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. By ensuring proactive estate management becomes mandatory, settling an estate can be as simple as pressing a button. Meaning families can close an estate in months versus years. If that becomes the norm we can free up the time of courts and also help families move forward in tough times.