Wills in the time of Covid-19
In these uncertain and unsettling days we are all being forced to consider difficult issues.
Research shows that around two thirds of the adult population in the UK do not have a Will, and there will be many reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is that people do not like to think about dying.
Suddenly we have found ourselves in a global pandemic where the loss of life is already on a large scale.
Will writers are seeing an increase in new instructions for Wills, as people want to get their affairs in order, but with the rules surrounding isolation and social distancing we are faced with many difficulties in terms of how we help clients to do this.
In order for a Will to be valid the following must be in place:
- The person must have capacity to give instructions for and sign their Will.
- They must not be under influence from any other person to write their Will in a certain way.
- The Will must be signed by the person (the testator) in the presence of two independent adult witnesses, with those witnesses then signing the Will in the presence of the testator, i.e. all the parties need to be present at the same time.
Over 1.5 million people, those classed as vulnerable and most at risk, have been written to by the Government telling them they need to remain in isolation for the next 12 weeks to protect themselves. For the rest of the population we have been told to limit contact outside of our family units.
So how do Will writers take instructions and arrange for clients to execute Wills in this new world we find ourselves in? There is certainly a lot of debate going on.
If the Will writer isn't physically present with the testator then how can they assess capacity and whether there is any undue influence? How if we are isolating or social distancing can we be present with independent people, to have Wills signed and witnessed correctly?
Various possibilities are being discussed. Taking instructions over video conferencing, so FaceTime, Skype etc. Can you be present with a window open if all the parties stay two metres apart? Members of the Armed Forces on "active military service" can prepare what are known as privileged Wills which allows them to draw up Wills quickly and without having to comply with the usual formalities. Some have questioned whether privileged Wills should be allowed for a greater proportion of the population at this time.
The Law Society is in discussions with the Ministry of Justice about whether formalities can be relaxed during this period and we await their guidance.
The Wrigleys Private Client Team are still working in these times and are available to help you with so if we can offer any support at this time, in relation Wills, LPAs and estates, please do not hesitate to contact Rebecca Forder on 0114 267 5316.