By Laura Walkley
We are enduring an unprecedented period of disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. One matter which is of particular concern to our clients is whether or not they have a Will in place which best fits their circumstances and wishes. They may not have a Will at all, or they may have one which is out of date and needs revising. Making a Will is vital to ensure that your assets pass as you intend after your death.
Many legal documents can be signed electronically, but Wills cannot. The law which governs how Wills must be signed is almost two hundred years old and so does not take into account the realities of modern life – particularly the situation we find ourselves in now. It states that for a Will to be valid, it has to be signed by the testator (the person making it) in the physical presence of two witnesses, who then have to sign in the presence of the testator. The witnesses cannot benefit from the Will in any way. Clearly, this procedure goes against the government advice to stay at home and avoid unnecessary contact with people outside your household.
Given the current restrictions placed on all of us we are finding practical and innovative solutions to help clients put new Wills in place. When taking instructions we are using video conferencing and telephone calls where appropriate, and our solicitors are all able to work from home to give advice and prepare documents. However, when it comes to signing Wills, one of the key elements – the presence of the witnesses to see the testator sign – cannot be done remotely. We are therefore advising clients on safe and sometimes creative ways of getting their Wills signed. Your witnesses do not need to be in the same room as you, so some clients have asked neighbours to watch them sign from over the garden fence or the end of a driveway, or through a window.
The Ministry of Justice and the Law Society are consulting on ways to reduce the formality of the Will signing process and it may be the case that the procedure is temporarily relaxed. For the time being, though, valid Wills can only be produced where all three parties are in one another’s presence and so we are working to help our clients find solutions.
If you would like advice on Wills and estate planning, please do get in touch.
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