June 6th marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to gain a key strategic foothold in German-occupied western Europe. Canadian forces figured prominently in the invasion’s success, and also in the heavy casualties that were suffered.
In the days leading to the invasion, the thoughts of the Allied troops must have turned to their loved ones back home. Many of them would have written letters, and some also would have written their wills. But in making a will, it may not have been practical to follow all the formalities that their lawyers back home would have insisted on.
The law in B.C. has for many years given special treatment to military wills, and B.C.’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) continues to do so. Section 38 of WESA provides that a member of the Canadian Forces while placed on active service may make a valid will that is signed only by the will-maker without witnesses. In any other context, a valid will requires the signatures of two witnesses, although the court now has the power to declare a deficient will to be valid under section 58 of WESA. A signed military will can be accepted for probate without the need for the court to validate the will under section 58.
The special dispensation for military wills is meant to recognize that a simple, hastily drawn, battlefield will is marginally better than no will at all. Members of the Armed Forces should still seek to have a proper will drawn up as and when they are able.
If you would like to see examples of handwritten military wills, a good place to look would be this site maintained by National Records of Scotland. They have recently published 31,000 Scottish soldiers’ wills from the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts.
We are grateful to the men and women of the Canadian Forces, past and present, for their willingness to put their lives in harm’s way for the greater good.