Will Making in the face of the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has made it problematic for the practitioners to take clients’ instructions face to face, or for the Will to be executed in the presence of appropriate witnesses.  Practitioners have to be mindful of official advice on self-isolation and social distancing.

Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP), a leading organisation, recommends that clients should be given an option of meeting via telephone or videoconferencing in order to have their Wills prepared.

A partial solution may indeed lie in technologies such as Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime or email, although there is not yet any official confirmation that video-witnessing will be accepted as a valid method.  The Wills Act 1837 sets out the necessary legal formalities for a valid Will, and it does not permit witnessing of a Will via video messaging, as witnesses must be physically present.

The issue of identity checks, assessments of capacity and checks for undue influence can also be problematic.  Despite the difficulties posed by the pandemic the practitioners are unable to waive the requirement for these checks to be carried out.

Professional organisations in England and Wales, including the Law Society, The Association of Lifetime Lawyers and Society (SFE) of Trusts and Estates Practitioners (STEP), are asking for temporary emergency legislation to relax the rules on witnessing of Wills.  These involve reducing the number of witnesses and looking at other solutions such as video witnessing.

There are hopes that government will take action immediately.  However, until a decision is made, if people sign wills without complying with the necessary legal formalities imposed by the Wills Act 1873 then they risk the Will being invalid.

We would like to reassure our clients that we are still able to take instructions and to prepare Wills.  Please therefore get in touch with us if you would like advice on Wills.  Clearly, face to face meetings will need to be limited for the time-being but we are able to communicate via telephone, emails, letters and video-conferencing.

Dealing with the execution of Wills may be more problematic as a result of the ‘lockdown’ measures currently in place.  The Law Society and other professional bodies are in discussions with the government about how to deal with this issue and we are keeping fully up to date on all developments so that we can provide the appropriate advice to our clients.

If you would like advice on the preparation of a Will, please contact our offices on 01323 727321 or via our website www.hartreade.co.uk.

The content of this article is for general information only as at March 2020.

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