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Wills in the time of Coronavirus

20 Mar 2020

As COVID-19 takes hold across the UK, we have seen a large increase in Will enquiries. For some clients, the current restrictions may lead to practical difficulties in both giving instructions and signing the Wills.

Often clients are not able to explain their wishes over the phone and so (until now) a face to face meeting has often been the preferred option. In the current situation, however, a telephone conversation or video call may be the best option available.

Wills also need to be signed in the physical presence of two independent witnesses who are not mentioned in the Will, which is problematic but is not necessarily impossible. Witnesses and the person making the Will could maintain the recommended ‘social distance’, wear gloves and use their own pens and wash their hands thoroughly immediately after signing and witnessing the Will. It is also possible to witness a document through a window as long as you can see the person signing.

Where there is a concern about a client’s mental capacity, we normally recommend obtaining a report from a doctor confirming capacity, and that the Will be signed in the presence of a solicitor. This is to avoid any disputes in the future from disgruntled beneficiaries as to whether or not the client understood the Will. Both of these are currently problematic, with pressures on the NHS, solicitors working from home and elderly clients being asked to go into isolation. However, delaying the preparation of a Will may not be an option for those who are particularly ill or at risk, and solicitors could be equally criticised if they do not prepare a Will.

In those circumstances, it may be better to make a Will, and sign it in front of witnesses who are available, than not to make one at all. Clients must be made aware of the risk of going ahead in these circumstances, and encouraged to obtain a doctor’s report and re-sign the Will, once the current problems subside.

Should you do it on-line? Many things are now possible on-line and over the last few days we have seen a huge range of services being offered via new digital platforms. Whilst it is possible to write a Will online, this will not address the issues regarding signing and capacity explained above. In addition, you should be careful about preparing Wills without taking legal advice. This is particularly the case if you have complex finances, which could give rise to tax liabilities that need to be considered under the Will, or if you have assets in multiple countries, which will need specific advice to ensure that your wishes are binding in each of those jurisdictions. Those with children should also take legal advice to ensure that they are sufficiently protected.

If you would like to make a Will please contact us. We will work with you to overcome the difficulties of the current situation, help you to make your Will and put your mind at rest as best we can.

These comments appeared in Your Money

Written by

Jessica Jamieson

Private wealth