25 March, 2020
In light of such uncertain circumstances during this lockdown phase, naturally people are considering what would happen to their assets if the inevitable happens. Will drafters are facing unprecedented times; drafters are being overrun with requests for new Wills and updates to existing Wills. We are used to meeting people face-to-face, assessing capacity, ensuring there is no undue influence and finding a Will solution unique to each individuals circumstance. With social distancing being encouraged as best practice, this is problematic. Drafters are using methods such as telephone, Skype, FaceTime etc. to ensure that clients receive the information and assistance they need. It is a given that in the pandemic of COVID-19 there is sharp focus on the importance of having an up-to-date and valid Will in place.
It is a common misconception that communicating your wishes to your loved ones will suffice. Unfortunately, unless your wishes are drawn up in a Will this is not the case. If you die without a Will, this is known as intestacy and your estate falls to those closely related to you. There is legislation in place which contains a list of those who qualify. Matters can get complicated particularly if you do not have a straightforward family situation; for example, children from one or more marriages, you are in a second marriage/relationship, assets overseas, require asset protection or a trust (for a vulnerable beneficiary or someone who you would not want to inherit outright). There are many factors to consider when making a Will.
One main obstacle which is being faced, is the witnessing of Wills. English law stipulates that there must be two witnesses present when the testator (the person who is making the Will) signs; section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 governs such requirements (the legislation is available at www.leglislation.gov.uk). As we are in a lockdown with social distancing, this can be problematic as there are specific requirements as to who can and cannot be a witness. Unfortunately, there is no formative solution to this at present. In such unprecedented times, situations are changing daily. The final Will can be sent to the testator for signing with specific instructions on the execution. Guidance from legal bodies is being given frequently on the possibility of electronic signing, signing in person but from a distance (for example through a window) and alternative methods. Such ground is unusual territory and obviously departure from traditional methods requires serious consideration to ensure that validity of Wills will be upheld.
There are various aspects you need to consider; who you want to inherit, who you want to deal with your estate by cashing in assets and distributing, is there someone you want to exclude completely, whether your assets will automatically transfer to someone (for example if assets such as property or bank accounts are held as joint tenants).
Our dedicated Wills team are offering initial consultations by telephone, skype and Facetime to assist with Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney. If you would like to call a member of the team to discuss in detail please contact Megan Diamond on 01772 220 204.
For more information contact Megan Diamond in our Wills, Probate, Tax & Trusts department via email or phone on 01772 220204. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.