Making Wills during lockdown
16 April, 2020
Having a properly drawn up Will in place is always important and perhaps now more than ever. There are some cases where a Will is even more important, for example if you have children from more than one relationship; if you are living with a partner but not married, if you’ve been married more than once, or if you want to benefit a charity or anyone who is not a blood relative.
Many solicitors have seen a big rise in Will instructions during the Coronavirus pandemic. Anyone thinking of writing a Will should take advice from a specialist in this area, as all too often, errors and mistakes on DIY documents lead to Wills being challenged and invalidated leaving families facing costly litigation.
The SRA have recently published guidance to Solicitors on the implications of social distancing and the need for Wills to be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses. The Law Society is currently in discussions with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to clarify if there is a new way forward. At present the strict rules under the Wills Act 1837 remain in force. Many clients ask us if someone can witness the signing of their Will via facetime, skype or similar link. This is not permitted under the Wills Act 1837 and the BBC reported this week that the MOJ has said there are no plans to change the rules at present. One of the main issues about relaxing the rules is the potential for fraud.
At Storrar Cowdry our office remains open for those clients who wish to sign their Wills at the office in the presence of a solicitor. We are of course witnessing clients’ signatures whilst observing the relevant social distancing guidelines. Many of our clients prefer to have the Wills posted or emailed out with detailed instructions of how to correctly execute them. Neighbours often act as witnesses (for example, with all parties standing in the driveway but some way apart). It is vital that all parties can physically see each other sign to satisfy the requirement that witnesses are ‘in the testator’s presence’.
In addition to Wills, there may sadly be an increase in Estate Administration and applications for Probate in the coming months. Families should seek any advice they need from a trusted advisor. The Law Society website provides details of Solicitors experienced in Probate and Will making who are regulated by the SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) and bound by the SRA rules of professional conduct and client care.
It looks like we are all in this situation for some time to come. We need to adapt and we are here to continue to provide assistance and answers for our clients in different ways.