Making Wills in the time of Coronavirus

So much has changed due to the Coronavirus pandemic but how has the process of making Wills been affected during the lockdown?

We are all getting used to the new style of work where we are basically working from home with occasional trips into the office when essential.

Within departments we keep in touch with each other through chat groups and in the private client department there is plenty to do.

Lots of people want to update their Wills.  I think this is not just from concern about the virus, but also because people have got the time to deal with this now.  Previously (in what seems like another lifetime) we would take instructions and send draft Wills out to clients to consider.  In a significant percentage of cases, the Will would get put to one side as being something to be dealt with later on, and it would regularly take quite a number of weeks for people to finalise their Wills and sign them.  However, now we send out the drafts (mostly by email) and clients look at them immediately and respond.

As others have observed, signing Wills in current circumstances is tricky.  Wills have to be signed in front of two witnesses who are not people who benefit under the Will, or married to people who benefit under the Will.  This usually rules out your immediate household.

Previously, when we sent Wills to people to sign at home, the solution was for them to get the neighbours in to be witnesses.  However, that is much more of a challenge, unless the neighbours stay on their side of the fence, but able to see you sign, and then they sign as witnesses.  It is difficult enough to explain the formalities for signing a Will in normal circumstances, but trying to explain a valid method of signing the Will without breaching social distancing rules gets quite complicated.

What I and a number of colleagues have been doing is having clients drive to the office.  We meet them in the car park.  They can stay in the car and sign the Will and we can watch them sign and then sign as witnesses, while keeping the appropriate distance away.  One thing we have learnt is for everyone to have their own pen to minimise the touch points.

Clients usually pay their bills by BACS nowadays so physical contact is minimised.  Where we know the clients, we can take instructions by email or phone.  Also, we are regularly taking instructions by FaceTime (or similar) conversations, so that we do at least see the client face to face, albeit through a screen.

We still have to take precautions to ensure that clients understand the issues involved and the decisions they have to make in making a Will and that they are not being pressed by someone close to them to make their Will in a particular way.

The upside is that because nobody is going away anywhere very quickly and the job gets done in a few days rather than a few weeks.

James Skellorn is a partner in the Private Client team at Barker Gotelee, Suffolk solicitors

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