All About Estates

Embracing the COVID-19 Ready Executor

This Blog was written by Edward Ngo, Estate and Trust Advisor  with MD Private Trust, Scotia Wealth Management

In Vancouver, the virtual estate planning landscape is changing before our eyes since British Columbia declared a state of emergency on March 18, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The early contentious months of uncertainty surrounding the creation and execution of a Will in the middle of the pandemic has slowly subsided since the temporary Ministerial Orders permitting the virtual witnessing of Wills, Enduring Powers of Attorney, and Representation Agreements[1] and amendments to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (‘WESA’) allowing the remote witnessing of Wills,[2] were passed.

Evidently, our role as estate planning professionals to support clients on their decision-making process on whom they should choose as their executor and trustee for their respective Wills is more vital than ever before during the pandemic.

We know settling a complex estate, along with the ongoing administration of any trusts, can be quite onerous for an individual to take on. Generally, the norm would be to appoint a spouse, child or family member as a primary and alternate executor and trustee. In today’s climate, this decision needs careful consideration and a deeper sense of contemplation on our end when advising clients.

With the pandemic and its fallout in full swing, the normal challenges an executor would face (liability, time drain, accounting), will further be compounded by physical limitations and physiological challenges navigating around the virus. Especially in a scenario where both spouses are elderly, is an essential worker, a physician or healthcare worker, the duties and responsibilities that an executor role typically entails are only going to be exacerbated during administration.

For instance, obtaining accurate inventory and valuation of estate assets, which generally involves going into homes and safeguarding assets, will now require advanced coordination and adherence to proper sanitation procedures and social distancing protocols. Shifts on delivering digital assets/information virtually, rather than in person, may become more prevalent for organizational or financial institutions, creating unintended challenges for an executor who is elderly or not tech friendly to safeguard and manage. Not to mention, executors are still expected to protect and invest estate and trust assets prudently while the market goes through its volatility from the world’s fluctuating highs and lows.

Moreover, avoiding personal liability may become a larger issue to contend with as beneficiaries who are experiencing financial difficulties during the pandemic may ask for early distributions. Yet, executors will inevitably experience delays from their probate applications being processed from registries that may not be operating at full capacity and dealing with longer wait times receiving clearance certificates from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Finally, the mental health fragility of an executor also cannot be overlooked as the feelings of being overwhelmed, stressed and frustrated, can drain and detrimentally affect their ability to carry out their duties and responsibilities as an executor, causing the administration to become at a standstill.

That said, it may very well be the time for families to consider the option of appointing an experienced professional for executor services, if it is not possible to eliminate these risk factors. Particularly if an executor is out of province, it may be more prudent to consider agent for executor services rather than having that individual being exposed to flight risks and additional quarantine procedures upon arrival and departure in another province.

Ultimately, the goal for any estate plan is to achieve certainty and comfort for the legacies our clients are leaving behind, and this can start by having their loved ones take a step back and/or advise from the sidelines, while the burden of administration is taken on and managed by professional administrators.

Hence, with Halloween right around the corner and the pandemic still very much in front of us heading into the New Year, it is a crucial time to make sure we as estate planners, do our diligence in ensuring we are all about our client’s estate, as it may truly indeed be the time to embrace the new normal.

[1] MO 161 & 162/2020. Until expiration or cancellation of BC’s state of emergency.

[2]  Amendment to the Wills, Estates and Succession Amendment Act, 2020.

About Scotiatrust


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