When the country was plunged into a third national lockdown by the Government earlier this month, the Wills and Probate industry – that historically has always relied on face-to-face contact – was forced to return to the new ways of working it adopted in the first lockdown in March 2020.
The number of people seeking to write new Wills has risen by at least 30% following the outbreak of coronavirus, with people keen to ensure their affairs are in order. But for the vulnerable or those who are currently self-isolating, new solutions and adaptations have had to be put in place.
Wills and coronavirus lockdown 3.0 – Our approach
The current situation is causing angst among people, and at Nelsons, we’re continuing to take calls and respond to emails from those wondering if it’s possible to make or amend a Will. Clients have contacted us thinking it was impossible to make or amend their Will, but we’ve come up with ways to ensure we can continue to provide such a vital service throughout these uncertain times, while still practising social distancing and minimising person-to-person contact.
It’s clear from the increase reported across the industry that the coronavirus pandemic has made people think about just how crucial it is to make a Will and ensure it is kept up to date.
How can I make or arrange a Will with a solicitor during the lockdown?
Wills are quite personal documents and many of our clients prefer having face-to-face contact. However, they do appreciate that we can’t be sitting in a room together at present and their desire to put a Will in place is overriding that need.
Instructions can often be taken over the phone and the drafted Will can be sent to the client by e-mail or post for approval and amendment. One thing we’re looking at doing more and more is speaking to clients via video link, but we appreciate this can be an overwhelming and unsettling experience for the elderly.
What we have found works best is listening to people’s concerns, coming up with solutions and facilitating these in the easiest way possible. We’re very lucky that, as solicitors, we’re able to work from home. We have all the necessary technology that enables agile and secure working, meaning we’re still able to engage with and service clients as we would in the office.
How do I get my Will witnessed during lockdown or while self-isolating?
By law, Wills have to be signed by the Will-maker in the physical presence of two witnesses, who also have to sign the document themselves. Neither witness can be those who stand to gain from the Will, such as close family members, nor be married to any such beneficiary.
If someone is self-isolating, the chances are they will be at home with the very people the Will may intend to benefit. Therefore, getting a Will finalised in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is a challenge, but there are ways to achieve this.
For example, you could call your neighbours or your friends and arrange a meeting in your garden, driveway or street. Everyone should use their own pens, wear gloves and ensure they stand two metres apart.
Place the document on a flat surface, such as a table or car bonnet, with each person stepping forward separately to sign the Will. Once complete, the Will should be placed into an envelope before gloves are removed.
Additionally, it is now currently possible for a Will to be signed and witnessed using video calls. However, there are strict requirements which must be followed for the Will to be validly made and we advise that you do not attempt this without first taking specialist legal advice.
Can I and my chosen witnesses electronically sign the Will?
No, this is not possible. There is a long-standing concern that e-signatures increase the scope for abuse and influencing factors, whereas a physical signature clearly identifies an individual, with witnesses supporting this. It’s important that Wills follow the legal requirements to ensure they are valid.
What should I do if I’m struggling to find people who are happy to be my witness?
After the introduction of stricter rules to help stop the spread of coronavirus, some people may be concerned about becoming witnesses. However, the Government has said those who are leaving their homes to help a vulnerable person are able to do so. We’d say someone getting their affairs in order at a time when there’s so much uncertainty falls within this category, as long as social distancing and NHS advice are adhered to.
For the latest Government advice on the coronavirus, please click here.