The pandemic has made more Britons think about making a will, or updating one, and Jane Sutherland shares advice on how to best achieve it during the UK lockdown.
The number of Britons seeking to write new wills has risen by at least 30% following the outbreak of coronavirus, according to The Law Society. However, self-isolation and the UK lockdown have made this more challenging.
Solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills are regarded as “key workers”, according to the Ministry of Justice.
Jane Sutherland, partner and specialist wills and probate solicitor at law firm Nelsons, said: “The current situation is causing angst among people, particularly elderly and vulnerable clients who are currently self-isolating, and we’re continuing to take calls and respond to emails from those who are wondering if it’s possible to make or amend a will.
“Clients have contacted us thinking it was impossible to get their affairs in order, but we've come up with solutions and adaptations to ensure that 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 that it is kept up to date.”
How can I make a will during the lockdown?
Instructions can often be taken over the phone and the drafted will can be sent to the client by email or post for approval and amendment. One thing that Nelsons is looking at doing more of is speaking to clients via video link.
As solicitors, we’re able to work from home and have all the necessary technology that enables agile and secure working, meaning that we're still able to engage with and service clients as we would in the office.
How do I get a will witnessed during the 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.
Can I and my chosen witnesses electronically sign a 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 witnesses?
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 that those who are leaving their homes to help a vulnerable person are able to do so. I’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.
Will there be any temporary changes to the law?
The Law Society and The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) are lobbying the government to relax the witnessing requirements. However, at present, nothing has been amended and therefore wills still require two witnesses.
For the latest government advice on coronavirus, visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
Jane Sutherland is a partner and specialist wills and probate solicitor at law firm Nelsons.