Where You Need a Will, There is a Way!

Where You Need a Will, There is a Way!

April 9th to 15th 2017 is ‘Make a Will Week’ in BC, which encourages residents to create a will or update their current one. Rise Women’s Legal Centre is making wills more accessible to women through our new wills clinic, made possible by funding from the Notary Foundation of BC.

A recent survey of 500 BC residents found that 56% of those with families do not have an updated will. But what exactly is a will, and why is it important to have a current one?

A will is a legal document that explains how you want your property and affairs (called your estate) managed after you die. If you have children, it will also contain instructions for their care.

With a will, you can make sure that your property and possessions are given to the people you choose, so that the special people in your life can avoid lengthy, expensive court processes and conflict over your estate. If you have a will, you should review it every few years to ensure that it remains accurate.

At Rise Women’s Legal Centre, we are fortunate this term to have lawyers and notaries volunteering their time to draft wills and other important end-of-life documents for women who would otherwise be unable to afford them.

Kim Hawkins, the Executive Director at Rise notes that wills can provide peace of mind for mothers with dependent children. “We’re thrilled to be able to expand our services by offering wills-drafting at Rise,” she commented.

“In her will, a single mother is able to name a guardian to take care of her children if she passes away unexpectedly,” says Monique Shebbeare, a Vancouver wills and estates lawyer currently volunteering at Rise. “She can also plan for her children’s financial security, and if she has not yet done so, estate planning gives her an opportunity to consider a life insurance policy that will benefit her children.”

Why then are many people without a will? Shebbeare explains that cost can be a barrier, as can misconceptions and a lack of information.

“Some people may believe that only the elderly or wealthy need to think about making a will,” says Shebbeare, “but wills are actually useful for parents of all ages and backgrounds. If there’s an important change in someone’s life, such as getting married, separated or divorced, having a child, or moving out of province, it’s a good time to revisit your will.”

Women who are interested in the wills clinic can call or email Rise.

Opinion: We All Must “Be Bold For Change”

Opinion: We All Must “Be Bold For Change”

Executive Director of Rise Women’s Legal Centre, Kim Hawkins discusses access to justice as an issue of women’s equality in the Vancouver Sun online for International Women’s Day 2017. See the full article below, or visit the Vancouver Sun online.

“Be Bold for Change” is the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day and the message could not be more timely.

Since the early 1900s, International Women’s Day has celebrated women’s achievements while calling for gender equality. While we see examples everywhere of women successfully contributing in business and politics, organizing, marching, and writing, there remain many challenges to the achievement of substantive equality. One such challenge is access to justice.

Rise Women’s Legal Centre is a new legal clinic that provides free and low cost legal services to low-income, self-identified women. Our services, which mainly address family law problems, are delivered by upper year students from the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law, in collaboration with staff lawyer supervisors. As the executive director of Rise, the question that I am asked more than any other is why we have a legal clinic that provides services exclusively to women.

In short, we provide legal services to women because access to family law services is a women’s equality issue. Since 2002, many people in British Columbia needing legal assistance have been denied adequate representation because of staggering cuts to legal aid. While men and women have been negatively impacted by the cuts, which saw the legal aid budget reduced by 40 per cent over three years, it was some of the services that were most accessed by women, such as family law and poverty law, that were cut the deepest. Despite some small pilot projects funded by the provincial government in recent years, B.C.’s spending on legal aid remains the third lowest per capita in Canada.

Today legal aid representation in family law cases is only available where there is actual or threatened family violence, or to resolve the serious denial of access to children – even for people whose low income would otherwise make them eligible for assistance. The Canadian Bar Association B.C. Branch, in its recently published Agenda for Justice, has stated that B.C.’s justice system requires attention now to avert a growing crisis, and called for adequate funding for family law services which were eliminated in 2002, including issues of divorce, child access and custody, financial support and asset division. They noted that 71 per cent of people who would financially qualify for such services are women.

The effects of marital breakdown on women can be severe. Data analyzed by the University of Toronto in 2008 demonstrated that women’s median income in the years following their separation dropped significantly more than men’s, and did not recover, even after four years. Research shows that women still earn less than men in the paid labour force, are disproportionately responsible for child and elder care within families, and are disproportionately the victims of family violence. All of these issues have been exacerbated by cuts to other social services that supported women including women’s centres, the Human Rights Commission, and welfare. The result is that women are less likely to be able to afford a lawyer than men, another reason that cuts to family law legal aid impact women more severely.

And although the non-profit community in British Columbia has stepped up to provide a network of transition homes, anti-violence organizations and advocates who can provide legal information, these programs usually cannot provide legal advice or representation. Legal information is not the same as legal advocacy and representation, and access to pamphlets and online tools, as important as it is, cannot stand in for the advice and support of a trained legal professional. Leaving aside literacy, language barriers, and access to safe and accessible Internet, legal problems are lonely, complex and difficult, and unmet legal needs can lead to broader social problems.

For all of these reasons, Rise Women’s Legal Centre was created to serve women as an important step toward women’s equality in B.C.

Being bold can look like a political march, but it can also look like a woman seeking a protection order for herself and her child, a law student who pushes past their fear to bring a court application for the first time, and people everywhere working within their individual sectors to inch us incrementally towards gender parity. Ultimately, we must all Be Bold for Change wherever it is needed.

It’s World Social Justice Day!

It’s World Social Justice Day!

It may be World Social Justice Day today, 20 February 2017, but social justice concerns have been in the global spotlight throughout these first weeks of 2017, as activists have rallied online and on the main streets of major cities. Women are playing a prominent role in speaking out against injustice at home and abroad.

In our own province of British Columbia the inability of citizens to access their rights through the justice system is one of the most pressing concerns for the social justice community. Last week, the Canadian Bar Association released an Agenda for Justice, which proposed a series of reforms and recommendations aimed at improving access to justice for all British Columbians. One of the report’s key recommendations is to increase funding for family law services to ensure all citizens who qualify financially should be able to receive legal aid.

As an organization providing front-line service to clients, Rise staff and students are reminded on a daily basis of how difficult it can be for people to navigate the court system on their own, and of the importance of face-to-face legal services delivered by knowledgeable legal professionals. We see first hand the desperation experienced by women who cannot get the help they need in order to successfully navigate the legal system and hope to do our part to address the gap in legal services.

As Rise enters our third term, we honour those around the world who are marching, speaking, and fighting for social justice, and remain committed to delivering access to justice one woman at a time.



Welcome to Rise Women’s Legal Centre, a non-profit legal clinic providing services to women in BC.

As the summer winds down, we are getting ready to welcome our second cohort of upper year students from UBC’s Allard School of Law, re-start new client intake, and reflect on everything that has happened since we opened our doors to family law clients on May 24, 2016.

It has been said that there is no single area of law that touches the lives of as many people as family law. Family breakdown can impact anyone, is often terribly scary, and may one of the most emotionally difficult experiences of peoples’ lives. All of this is made far worse by a complex legal system, and while we know that there is a lot of self-help information available online and in paper form, none of it compares to being able to work directly with a real person. Without legal assistance the legal system can be daunting and leave people stuck and unable to move forward; the idea behind the name “Rise” is our hope that clients will be able to journey through and past and beyond the difficult times by moving their legal matters towards some form of resolution.

The stories our clients have told us this summer have been inspiring, traumatic, depressing and life-affirming in equal measure. We have talked to women with a huge range of ages, backgrounds and lived experiences and have learned so much about running a student clinic. It’s one thing to read that deep and abiding cuts have been made to Legal Aid in BC over the past 15 years, but quite another to watch women literally dragging suitcases of court documents into your office as they struggle through the system on their own, often for years at a time. In my mind’s eye, this is what 15 years of cuts to legal services now looks like. (Incidentally, in my mind’s eye “hope” now looks like the brilliant and committed law students who will soon become part of the next generation of lawyers.)

Although one tiny legal clinic cannot fill the gap in legal services in this province, we hope to constantly find new ways to offer compassionate and professional services to women who would not otherwise be able to access their legal rights. Although we’ve limited our services to family law in summer 2016 we’re hoping that with the help of some wonderful lawyer volunteers we will be able to expand our services this fall and into the spring, so check back with us.

To any clients who came to Rise this summer: we hope that we were able to help in some small way, and thank you for taking the time to make contact with us. To summer students who are leaving us: thank you for all your energy and enthusiasm. To the fall students and volunteers about to join us: we can’t wait to meet you.


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