2020 brought many unexpected events and we discussed how you can help to protect yourself from the unexpected by making a Will. From providing for your loved ones to giving you peace of mind about the future. How can a specialist solicitor help when writing or updating your will. Michael Brierley discussed this and more live on Twitter this morning during #SolicitorChat.
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Talk us through the process of making a Will during the pandemic and how a solicitor can help.
Most clients contact a solicitor online or via the phone in the first instance. An initial appointment is then arranged – Pre-Covid this would almost always have been in person but now it is often done via a video call.
Before this first appointment we send the client a questionnaire that takes them through the information needed to understand their particular needs. At this stage it may become obvious that a remote appointment would not be appropriate – such as if the client is making a substantial change to their Will or is unable to engage via video. In such instances, provisions can be made to see clients in person – either at the office or at their own home. Any face to face appointment must be compliant with Government rules.
After taking instructions a draft Will and a letter explaining the document are sent to the client. They then have an opportunity to discuss any questions or changes they would like.
Once the client is happy the Will needs to be executed (signed). Up until Autumn 2020 the only way for this to be done was for the client to sign the Will in front of two independent witnesses. However, because of Covid the Government amended the law to allow Wills to be witnessed remotely.
It is important to seek legal advice if you are considering executing a Will remotely because it is not a simple process and a number of professionals have questioned whether it is sensible when other arrangements can be made – such as socially distancing when being witnessed or even having the witnesses watch through a window.
Generally there is more to consider when making a Will than most people realise. This is why it is so important to have your Will professionally drafted.
What happens if you die without a Will?
In England and Wales if you die without a Will then you are said to have been intestate. If a person dies intestate their estate is managed and distributed in accordance with a strict set of rules. On occasions these rules create situations that were unlikely to have been desired by the person who died. In these cases a person who feels they may have missed out may want to seek legal advice – however if a person had no Will then in most cases their estate passes in accordance with the rules of intestacy. These rules can be found on the Government website.
What are the risks of using a DIY Wills kit or an unregulated service?
Unfortunately, anyone can hold himself or herself out to be a professional Will writer and charge someone to prepare their Will. Often very cheap Wills come with hidden surprises such as the appointment of the Will writer as the person’s executor. We sometimes have very unhappy clients come to us when they realise their Will does not achieve what they thought it did. It is better for this to be discovered while they are alive otherwise, matters would be far more complicated.
The same applies when people write their own. Many contentious probate matters stem from someone deciding to make their own Will.
Wills may appear relatively simple but the provisions they make and the manner in which it has to work within often quite complex family situations means that it is a mistake to assume that a Will does not need to be properly prepared by a professional.
Why is it important for everyone to make or update their Will?
The reality of life is that we don’t know when we are going to die. Statistics may reassure younger people of a long life ahead but it doesn’t always work that way. It is very important that people have made clear provisions for their loved ones and the charities and organisations they care about. Without a Will the rules of intestacy apply (see Q2) and this often leaves behind a number of unhappy and disappointed people.
Why is the new year a good time to make or update your Will?
The New Year presents itself as the perfect opportunity to consider the people we love and to make decisions about how we would like to leave things when we pass away.
For some making a Will can feel a daunting and rather morbid experience but by making one a person is empowered by the knowledge that they have set the things they want to happen in motion. That is a great start to a new year.
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