By Emma Woollard, Partner in the Wills, Trusts and Estates team at Prettys
As the COVID-19 epidemic continues to disrupt the nation and raise concerns about the health and the wellbeing of ourselves and of our loved ones, making a Will is naturally on the minds of many.
However, the current rules and restrictions on social distancing and isolation have posed some unprecedented challenges for Will writers and those wanting to get their affairs in order in response to the threats we are facing and future uncertainty.
Ipswich-based law firm, Prettys have explained how they have adapted their practices to prioritise the writing, reviewing and signing of Wills. Whilst following government guidelines on social distancing, they have ensured that the essential service provided by their Will writers is as accessible as possible to clients and families who may require it.
The challenges faced
Perhaps the biggest challenge faced under the current circumstances is the signing and witnessing of Wills in order for them to be deemed valid.
The Ministry of Justice has recognised the need for a period of relaxed rules. It has been discussed whether signings and witnessing could take place remotely, via video call technology. This would be an exception to the current requirement for all parties to be present in the room when signing.
The need for this becomes even more apparent, when the matter of deathbed Wills is brought into question, as those hospitalised and reaching end of life care with the coronavirus are unable to be with friends and family and those all important friends, neighbours or legal professionals who would normally act as witnesses.
In these cases, there is a plea for hospitals to also relax their rules around doctors, nurses or other members of staff witnessing patients’ Wills.
Although, there are fears that with a more relaxed standpoint, many vulnerable people could be taken advantage of, as the face-to-face interaction currently in place ensures the Will definitely outlines the client’s wishes.
An adapted service
The current challenges being faced by all businesses and services are causing a lot of disruption and change. This is certainly not ideal in situations where individuals and families are making important decisions about their affairs and, as a result, firms are putting measures into place to enable them to continue catering to client needs.
Upholding their duty of care and commitment to clients, the courts and the Law Society, Will writing solicitors must continue to provide their services throughout this challenging time. In order to do so and keep themselves and clients safe in the process, it has become important to use remote means of communication, such as telephone and video calls as well as email to take instructions.
From here, solicitors will be able to draft a Will in accordance with their client’s wishes and their timeline. In urgent cases, Wills can be turned around in a matter of hours and in less pressing cases, a one to two week deadline can be expected.
Signing your Will
Emma Woollard, Partner in the Wills, Trusts and Estates team at Prettys, explains how in cases where individuals are well but are self-isolating at home, the firm has had to be innovative in order to get Wills signed and validated.
The firm has always offered an at-home service whereby they go to clients’ houses, if they are unable to come to the office, and this has become the new norm for current signings.
Abiding by social distancing rules and ensuring staff and clients are put at no risk, Will signings are taking place through house windows, patio doors, either ends of a drive or corridors long enough to allow at least 2 metres distance. Although it is clear that there is no easy solution, this is an example of how the firm is ensuring clients can get their affairs in order by any means necessary.
Therefore, despite the challenges, solutions are still being found – some reassuring news for individuals or families without Wills in place who may be worried that it is too late.
Preparation rather than panic
Over recent weeks, not only has there been an increase in demand for Wills but also, their urgency. Under the current circumstances, this is understandable but individuals are being reminded that Wills are about preparation, rather than panic.
Whether you’re concerned about your own health, a loved one’s or if the pandemic has reminded you to review an existing Will, firms are advising that they are well-equipped to provide the service clients require. Therefore, rather than entering into a panicked decision, it is advised that you and your loved ones put thought into the following:
- Who will you appoint as an executor to administer your estate?
- If you have young children, who will you appoint as their guardian? And, what provisions will you make for them and what is the age at which you want them to receive their inheritance?
- If you are a cohabiting couple, what provisions will you be making for one another?
- Are any of the beneficiaries disabled or do they lack capacity? If so, should you consider creating a Trust in your Will?
This information will allow you to create a basic Will that can help you get your affairs in order without the process becoming too chaotic at a time already full of adversity.
With all that is going on, it is easy to become consumed by feelings of stress and panic. However, it is reassuring to see how firms are stepping up and making necessary adjustments to cater for their clients’ needs. Although it may be some time before we see changes to the law itself, Wills can still be written and signed in less conventional ways, allowing those in need to rest assured that, no matter what the future holds, their estates and affairs are safe.