Making a Will during a Pandemic #SolicitorChat with The Law Society.

In these current difficult times and period of lockdown, with plenty of time on their hands individuals are becoming aware of the need to make or update their Will. But, Who needs to make a Will? How can a Solicitor help? Michael Brierley discussed this and more live on Twitter this morning during #SolicitorChat

Join The Law Society and other firms discussing on Thursday mornings 0900-1000.

Can people still make or update their will during the Coronavirus pandemic? How can a solicitor help?

A person can choose to make or update their Will at any time in their life, however the current crisis offers perfect opportunity to consider what you want to happen to your Estate upon your death – however perhaps not for the reasons you may think. The reason we suggest that now is the best time is because a Will is often the last thing to be considered during our busy, hectic lives. It is quite a common experience of Will writing solicitors to prepare a Will and send it to the client only to have to chase them for weeks for it to be signed. Wills often slip to the very bottom of the to-do list (and let’s be honest it’s not that surprising – who wants to think about their own death). With lockdown firmly in place and with us being that much more aware of our mortality (and our finances) this is the perfect time to update or make a Will.

A solicitor is the best person to ensure that the Will you end up with accurately reflects and ultimately achieves what you want. It is relatively easy to write a Will – but experiences tells us that its often the simplest Wills that go wrong.

A solicitor will listen to what you want to achieve and advise you based on your own particular circumstances. Often clients come thinking that their circumstances are exceedingly complicated or unusual – but in most cases an experienced solicitor – such as those here at Mundays – will have seen it before and know what will work for them.

How can a client instruct their solicitor in relation to their will during the Coronavirus outbreak?

Mundays LLP remains fully operational with clients continuing to be able to reach us via our main switchboard, mobiles, website and emails. Many firms, including ours have moved towards flexible working with colleagues often working from home. This has been the case before lockdown and the current crisis simply means everyone is working from home.

In addition it is sometimes the case that clients looking to make new Wills are unable to attend an office and many firms will already have good work processes in place to ensure that the client is able to provide their instructions.

Although face to face appointments are not possible we are able to see clients via video or telephone and often take instructions via email.

What solutions are being found to make sure a will is properly witnessed during the Coronavirus outbreak? Why is this important?

We explored this issue in some detail at the start of the lockdown. Although no special laws have been brought in to assist with this issue it is entirely possible to get two independent witnesses to a Will – a good example would be neighbours witnessing the signing through the window.

Recently two of our colleagues were able to act as a witnesses when the client attended the office and executed the Will from outside the building. This enabled everyone to be appropriately socially distanced and gave peace of mind to a client in a very difficult situation. Solicitors are there to ensure what a client wants is done correctly – this includes finding solutions caused in these unprecedented times. 

If a Will is not properly witnessed then it can challenged by unhappy beneficiaries or refused by the Probate Registry. The rules around the execution of Wills are so strict that the Registrar can refuse to accept it even when there is no dispute or disagreement. The rules are very clear and have not been relaxed even in this crisis. This is why it is so important to ensure that the Will is signed correctly – and the best way to get this assurance is to use a solicitor.

Some people may be tempted to write their own will during lockdown, what are the risks of doing so?

As a firm that has a specialist department dealing with contentious wills we see a large number ofissues caused when people decide to write their own wills.

Not only are the rules very strict about what Wills must contain but we find that most of the issues stem from the fact that many people either fail to think of the possible challenges by family members/dependents or just don’t know what these challenges can be. This means that many homemade Wills are written in such a way to make it very hard to understand their intentions or set out intentions that are very likely to cause disputes.

We recently came across a Will that was technically valid but open to numerous challenges by unhappy family members. This would have very easily been avoided had the person used a solicitor. 

On a side note, we anticipate some unique challenges to Wills that stem from the lockdown such as undue influence of vulnerable family members and potentially rash decisions made in the ‘heat’ of the moment.  It is always advisable to use a solicitor.

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?

It is important that people consider who they want to benefit from their Estate. Although this may seem obvious, people often don’t look at this in any detail.

When considering this question we would suggest that a person tries not to think of inheritance as a reward or an incentive but rather what would be considered right and fair. An example of this would be if a person is passing on assets that they themselves received from someone else. A good question in this situation would be for the person to consider who the original benefactor would want that asset to end up with. 

Who you leave your estate to is entirely your choice but the consequences of these decisions can leave deep scars with those you have left behind.

A solicitor will examine with you what you want to achieve and why. You don’t always have to follow your solicitors advice but it is usually beneficial to the Estate if evidence that advise was sought is present. It will also provide peace of mind if you are worried that your ultimate decisions may not be universally liked.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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