Will Making and Social Distancing: Overcoming the Challenges

Trusts and Taxes, photo of people signing a document

You may have read our recent blog post on Will Making in the face of the Coronavirus Pandemic, which set out some of the challenges currently faced by legal practitioners who prepare Wills. We are continuing to prepare Wills for new and existing clients, and we thought you might like to know how we are adapting to some of these challenges as a firm.

Giving instructions for a Will

We understand that for most of our clients face to face initial meetings carry an unnecessary risk at the present time. We have therefore reviewed our working practices to ensure that we can continue to provide Will writing services to our clients. We can still take instructions by telephone, email or post, including by completion of a Will Questionnaire in appropriate cases. We are also able to take instructions through video conferencing using services such as Skype and Zoom.

Execution of the Will

The formal requirements for the execution of a Will are set out in section 9 of the Wills Act 1837. The requirement that needs particular consideration at a time of social distancing is the requirement that the testator signs the Will or acknowledges his or her signature in the presence of two or more witnesses who are present at the same time. We have developed procedures for signing Wills in ways which respect the Government’s advice on social distancing as well as ensuring compliance with s9 Wills Act 1837.

We are fortunate to have private car parks at our offices in Eastbourne, Hailsham and Polegate, which means that (weather permitting!) we can usually arrange for your Will to be executed in an outside space whilst maintaining a social distance from you.

If you need to come inside one of our offices to sign your Will, we will endeavour to facilitate this where we believe it is safe to do so for you and our staff. We will ask you to confirm prior to the appointment that neither you nor anyone else in your household are exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus. Where we have available a meeting room that is large enough to maintain a social distance, we have in place procedures to ensure that it is cleaned between uses.

If requested, we will endeavour to meet with you at your home to witness the signing of your Will. We will need to agree the arrangements for signing the Will with you beforehand to ensure that it takes place in a controlled way that is not only safe but also complies with s9 Wills Act 1837. This may include the Will being signed on your doorstep or in your garden.

We can also send your Will to you by post or email with instructions for signing in the presence of two suitable witnesses. Please note it would be inappropriate for anyone within your household to act as a witness if they are also a beneficiary of the Will, because the gift to that beneficiary will then be void under section 15 of the Wills Act 1837. It may be appropriate to ask two of your neighbours who are not named in the Will to act as your witnesses. If you do arrange the execution of your Will yourself, we ask that you return your Will (or a copy of it) to us to enable us to check it to ensure that it appears to have been correctly executed.

Hart Reade are committed to ensure that we can continue to provide professional Will writing services to our clients in a safe and responsible manner. For advice in relation to the preparation of a Will please contact us on 01323 727321 or complete the contact form below.

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Please note this article records the position as at the date of publication and may be subject to change.

6 April 2020

Author: John Benson. Head of Private Client Department, Partner