Law firms have had to change their approach when it comes to writing wills, as the number of people seeking to settle their affairs spikes amid the Coronavirus crisis.
As the pandemic continues to disrupt the nation and raise concerns over health and wellbeing, writing a will has become a concern for many individuals.
Emma Woollard (pictured), partner in the wills, trusts and estates team at law firm Prettys, says that upholding their duty of care and commitment to clients, the courts and the Law Society, will writing solicitors must continue to provide their services throughout this time. In order to do so, remote means of communication, such as telephone and video calls as well as email to take instructions have become vitally important.
However, the biggest challenge facing individuals is the signing and witnessing of wills in order for them to be deemed valid.
Prettys says it has had to adapt its practices to prioritise the writing, reviewing and signing of wills to allow for the current social distancing rules.
Woollard said in the cases where individuals are well but self-isolating, the firm is attending people’s houses and carrying out will signings through house windows, patio doors or either ends of corridors and driveways, ensuring a strict two meter distance.
However, as urgency for wills increases, Prettys cautioned that wills are about preparation rather than panic.
According to Woollard, people should put careful thought into key questions such as who will be appointed executor to administer the estate, who will be appointed guardian if there are young children and what provisions will be made for them, and for cohabiting couples, what provisions will be made for the other person.
Prettys’ advice comes as the Ministry of Justice examines ways to relax the rules around wills, including potentially allowing signings and witnessing to take place via video call technology, or reducing the number of witnesses required. However, it warned that any temporary change in rules would need to be balanced against the risk of fraud, with the rule about two independent witnesses originally put in place to protect vulnerable clients.
Woollard said: “With all that is going on, it is easy to become consumed by feelings of stress and panic. However, it is reassuring to see how firms are stepping up and making necessary adjustments to cater for their clients’ needs. Although it may be some time before we see changes to the law itself, Wills can still be written and signed in less conventional ways, allowing those in need to rest assured that, no matter what the future holds, their estates and affairs are safe.”