07 Apr Wills & Covid-19 – How to make a valid Will under Covid-19 restrictions?
This is an important issue that our Wills team now have to deal with on a regular basis. Matthew Billingsley, Wills and Private Client Solicitor at Rutters Solicitors, answers this question below:
“The current Covid-19 outbreak has had an obvious impact upon society in general throughout the UK and wider global population. One immediate impact I have seen is the dramatic increase in Will instructions from concerned clients, which of course raises practical problems in relation to the witnessing of Wills.
As a solicitor dealing with Wills I have to be extremely mindful of self-isolation and social distancing rules (particularly if acting for elderly or infirm clients). So what are the options available to enable me to be able to take your instructions on your wishes so I can draft your Wills?”
Taking instructions to enable us to prepare your Will
“There is of course the option of taking instructions over the telephone if no other medium is available. However, a fast growing option is the use of videoconferencing software such as Zoom or Skype to have an initial meeting with you. This will allow instructions to be taken in as safe a way as possible and to obtain more information than I could obtain over the telephone. However, with instructions at a distance, then issues surrounding capacity and possible undue influence will take on even more importance and we have to be more mindful of this.
We, as solicitors, have to make sure that you have the capacity to make a Will, i.e. that there is not a problem with your mental capacity. If I have reasons to doubt your capacity then we may need to explore options around obtaining a capacity report by videoconferencing albeit this may not be appropriate in all cases. We also have to make sure that there is not undue influence i.e. that you are not being pressurised by family or friends into leaving gifts to them or dividing your assets in a certain way.”
Signing and witnessing of Wills
“Under the current rules, a Will must be signed in the presence of two independent witnesses who are both over 18 or, alternatively (and if the circumstances require it) have it signed on your behalf by two witnesses in your presence. So what are the options for witnessing a Will?
The attendance of two witnesses at the same time during the social distancing environment will be difficult. If you are self-isolating due to your age or underlying health conditions, then even a method such as witnessing a will from the next room or through a window could even be challenged. A tactic adopted by law firms could also be to sign off at the direction of a testator after going through the document with them through a window. However, as it has been suggested that the virus can survive on paper for a number of hours this of course raises the possibility of transmission. At present, where the signing of a will cannot be arranged independently, and where appropriate, we have been carrying out ‘doorstep will signings’ adhering to the social distancing rules and wearing gloves. It will therefore be a question of context for each individual case and I will advise you on any steps necessary to enable you to make a valid Will during these unprecedented times.
A solution may rest in e-signatures or witnessing by video, but no official word has yet been received from the Government as to whether this would be accepted. In the current climate change is quite clearly needed, but how far and how quickly has yet to be decided”
If you would like to make a Will or discuss changing an existing Will please contact me, Matthew Billingsley, Wills and Private Client Solicitor at Rutters Solicitors on 01258 444483 or email me at email@example.com.