Before January 1, 2022, Ontario courts would only consider a Will valid if the Will complied with the strict, technical formalities set out in the Succession Law Reform Act. For example, under the SLRA, a Will was only considered valid if the Will was in writing, if it was signed by the testator at the end of the document, and if it was witnessed by two or more people.
However, with the recent addition of section 21.1(1) to the SLRA, even Wills that don’t meet those formal requirements may be considered valid, as long as the court is satisfied that the document “sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased”. This means the court now has the power to order that a document is as valid and as effective as a Will, even if it does not meet the requirements of a Will. This new section of the SLRA applies to Wills of people who died after January 1, 2022.
For a while, we didn’t have many examples of people relying on section 21.1(1). Now, however, we are starting to see the court interpreting section 21.1(1) in some recent decisions.
As expected, the court has relied on cases from other provinces that already introduced provisions similar to section 21.1(1) of the SRLA. In a series of recent decisions from the Ontario Superior Court from June 2023, the court found that even when a Will wasn’t witnessed at all or signed by the testator, the Will was valid because it recorded a “deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of the deceased’s property on death.” If it is clear from the facts and evidence that the deceased intended the document to be a proper Will, it seems like the Ontario court will have little difficulty finding the document to be a valid Will.
In these first few cases interpreting section 21.1(1) of the SLRA, all the documents validated as Wills looked very much like a proper Will, but for a few key issues, like missing signatures. Only time will tell how far the court will go to validate documents that may set out someone’s testamentary intentions, but that stray even farther from the technical requirements of a Will.
Nothing contained in this post constitutes legal advice or establishes a solicitor-client relationship. If you have any questions regarding your legal rights or legal obligations, you should consult a lawyer.