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Writing a Will during Covid-19

During these unprecedented times, it is normal to feel anxious and worried about your health and being at risk of contracting Covid-19. There has been a huge surge in the number of people desperate to ensure their affairs are in order.

It’s perhaps a job that many have put off until now but when something of such a global scale hits, it’s hard to continue to put these all too important tasks to the bottom of the ‘to-do’ list.

Paul White, co-founder of 4 Probate and Wills, and specialist in the area comments:

“During recent weeks we have seen a big rise in the number of people approaching us to assist them in writing or updating their Will as they realise that they don’t have anything in place, or that what they do have is vastly out of date. For example, those who have bought a new home, have married or re-married since they last wrote their Will but haven’t updated it to acknowledge such a big change.”

Paul considers some key questions and considerations that the UK public should be considering in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need a Will?
Having a will is particularly important if you have children or family who depend on you financially. You don’t have to have huge amounts of money or property to make a Will. People with very modest wealth can make it much easier for their next of kin to sort everything out by having this in place and it can help avoidable family disputes arising over money. Many people assume that if they pass away without a Will, their dependants will automatically be looked after. This isn’t necessarily the case, particularly where those dependants are below the age of 18, meaning, if you don’t appoint guardians in a Will they may be looked after by strangers or someone you didn’t want. The assets in your estate may be shared out in a standard way, defined by law which may not be the way you intend. Unmarried couples simply do not have the same rights as married or civil partners, irrespective of the time they have been together. Couples living together where one party owns the family home are particularly at risk if no Will is in place.
What should I do if I don’t have a Will in place?
A great number of our clients fall into one or more of the at-risk categories and have requested that we prepare legal documents for them to sign, particularly those with underlying health concerns. During this time, lawyers/practitioners who prepare Wills are classed as key workers so we are pleased to say that we are able to assist people in making a Will We are currently working from home whilst our offices are closed, but we are able to arrange a telephone/Skype/FaceTime/WhatsApp/Zoom call with one of our Will Writers. When you call to arrange an appointment, our paralegals will ask you for a brief summary of your intentions. Once that call has taken place, we will then arrange the drafting of your Will and either post or email a draft to you for approval. 4 Probate and Wills also recognise that it isn’t always possible to make an appointment to speak directly about your Will. If you know what you want and don’t require specific advice about your circumstances, we have created an online service for you to be able to create your own Will in under 15 minutes.
Who is eligible to complete a Will online?
We have recently launched a service for our clients to write a will online. This service is ideal if your estate is simple with no requirement for a Trust, Inheritance Tax or complex estate planning. Your online Will can only deal with assets in England & Wales (An additional Will is required for your foreign assets. You can continue if you own assets in foreign countries but this Will, will not protect them outside England & Wales). You need to be able to read, write, understand English, and retain information to ensure your Will is legal (Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice 2005). You must ensure that your Will reflects your wishes and you are not under duress, pressure or being coerced. You complete your personal details and information about the people you want to benefit from your Will, provide details of your Executors and name people to look after your children in the event of both parents dying. You can tell us about your funeral wishes any other information you would like to be included in your Will If at any point the online Will service is not suitable in your circumstances, you will be prompted to call or email us. If you are not sure about any of the questions or the suitability of this service you can stop the application and contact 4 Probate and Wills for guidance on 01482 380740. Once you have submitted the details and made payment, a confirmation will be sent to the email you provided whilst drafting your Will. A professional Will Writer will prepare your Will and send it to you within 7 days with clear instructions on what to do next.
How should I get a Will witnessed during social distancing?
The safety of our staff and clients is of upmost importance during this time and as a business, we are continually following the guidance outlined by the Government. This includes social distancing and as such we currently operate remotely, from home. In order for your Will to be legally valid there are specific conditions which must be met when your Will is signed. A Will must be signed by the person making it and two independent witnesses who are not beneficiaries or the spouses of beneficiaries, and all three must be physically present in the same place when this happens. Whilst the government are being pressed to relax these rules throughout the crisis, it is the law at present for anyone making a Will to follow these rules.
How do I ensure my Will is valid?
It’s important not to panic and not rush into any decisions around giving instructions. You should appoint executors within your Will, outlining a clear disposal of your estate ensuring that it is executed correctly. Your Will must also be in writing, signed and dated by you, or a representative who has your permission. To ensure your Will complies with the law, the 2 witnesses must be in sight of you and the Will and be able to clearly see you sign and date the document. Adopting the social distancing rules means at no time should the witness come within 2 metres or 6 feet of you during this process. There is no reason for your witnesses to read the content of your Will, they are simply there to watch you sign and date the back page or attestation as it’s known. The use of gardens and garden tables as an example works really well. As practitioners we have hand posted unsigned Wills through the door and watched from a safe distance whilst the document is signed, the client closes the door and the practitioner retrieves the document for witnessing. It requires both practitioners to arrive separately and adhere to the 2-metre rule but in these unprecedented times these measures are possible. This process can also apply to neighbours, ideally both from the same family household where we are unable to attend.
What could result in a Will being invalid?
There are other issues that can invalidate a Will such as doubts about the mental capacity of the individual writing the Will or undue influence exerted by people wishing to benefit under the Will. This is more of a concern when so many of us are isolated. For our clients, we are seeking to address this by using video calls on the day Wills are executed to check capacity and to ensure anyone who may be vulnerable to undue influence gives instructions and executes their Will without the involvement of anyone else. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson has recently said: “This is a delicate area of law and we absolutely must continue to protect the elderly and vulnerable against potential fraud. While there are no current plans to change the law, we will consider all options and keep this under review during the Covid-19 pandemic.” We are asking clients to scan the attestation to us to ensure it is correct. We will also be re-contacting every client at an unspecified time to ensure their wishes are unchanged and the possibility of a 3rd party being present would be vastly reduced. These are highly unusual circumstances so Wills written during this time may well need a further level of security to protect the Testator.

4 Probate and Wills

Paul White is a Partner in the Wills, Trusts and Probate team at 4 Probate and Wills.

For more advice or information in relation to making or updating a will, please contact Paul or another member of the team on 01482 380740.

4 Probate & Wills are self-regulated with the Society of Will Writers and Estate Planners and we have an infrastructure of Lawyers and Trust Corporations behind us to ensure our clients receive the best possible help and support. 

You can access their online Will service by clicking here.

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