1. Can people still make or update their will during the Coronavirus pandemic? How can a solicitor help?
People certainly can still make or update their will during the Coronavirus pandemic. Though a solicitor would normally see a client face-to-face in order to take instructions, during the pandemic this can sometimes be done over video conferencing or by telephone, provided the solicitor has identified the client (by asking for photo ID to be emailed to them), and is happy that they understand what they are doing and that they are not under duress. A solicitor will be able to provide advice to the client relating to their estate, and any practical, legal or tax consequences, in exactly the same way as they would if they were face-to-face.
2. How can a client instruct their solicitor in relation to their will during the Coronavirus outbreak?
Instructions can be taken over the phone or via videoconferencing if possible, and the client should email the solicitor a picture of their photo ID so that they can be identified. A client might also wish to complete a questionnaire beforehand, or send an email or letter, so that the instructions are in writing, and this can be followed up with a telephone or video call. Throughout, the solicitor will want to ensure as best they can in the circumstances that there is no duress and the client understands what they are doing.
3. What solutions are being found to make sure a will is properly witnessed during the Coronavirus outbreak? Why is this important?
The main solution being found to make sure a Will is properly witnessed during the lockdown is for clients to find neighbours to act as their witnesses. This can be done through a closed window if necessary, or over a fence or across a driveway, provided both witnesses have line of sight of the testator signing. It is very important that the will is signed correctly, as the Wills Act requirements have not been adjusted or amended by any Covid-19 legislation. Some solicitors may be able to meet the client physically to act as a witness, whilst maintaining social distancing, but this is clearly very difficult.
4. Some people may be tempted to write their own will during lockdown, what are the risks of doing so?
There are many risks to the person writing their will during lockdown, many of which would apply during normal times: using incorrect or imprecise language, not correctly revoking the previous will, not correctly appointing executors, not correctly executing the will, not understanding the ramifications of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act, to name but a few.
5. What tips would you give to someone who wants to make or update their will during the Coronavirus pandemic? Why should they use a solicitor?
Someone who wants to make or update their will during the Coronavirus pandemic should be as clear as possible from the outset about what their instructions are, as it will be harder for the solicitor to work through ambiguity or indecisiveness without face-to-face contact. They will also need to be prepared to find their own witnesses for the Will. That said, using a solicitor still means they will receive the same accompanying advice and peace of mind (that the Will will do what it is supposed to do) as they would have done in normal times.
For more information on any of the points covered, please contact Nick Bowen.
With adaptations to our usual service we are doing what we can to help our clients put their Wills in place.